Computer Science education for the ‘real’ world…

So as I look over the agenda that my inservice day would entail, I started to get the most excited about touring the masters and doctorate level projects that the University of Manitoba’s department of Computer Science would be presenting. In some ways it started a little under a year ago when at the Computer Science programming contest I mentioned the Manitoba teacher’s societies inservice day known as SAGE (Special Area Groups for Education). A certain professor, along with myself, and a few other Computer Science teachers from around Manitoba started planning this. We organized it under the umbrella of MANACE (Manitoba Association of Computer Educators), but was truly a separate event. Getting back to my excitement, it was truly interesting to see some of the innovative work being done by the department in areas such as security data analysis (as it relates to the psychological studies of attention), virtual reality, human-computer interaction (as it relates to robotics), human-emotion interfaces (including some research into Autism), and bioinformatics (looking into AIDS research). As well, further discussion with the Computer Science Co-op director showed that the field of Computer Science is still thriving. Just this year’s placements included many high end companies around North America (and worldwide) – see this year’s placements here. For the last few (maybe more than a few) years, SAGE (formally known only as SAG), has been very disappointing. MANACE has given sessions on some interesting technology related topics like blogging, iPads, etc. but nothing even closely related to Computer Science. This has left me lacking in my ability to attend a session of relevance to senior years technology education. For many of us in the senior years, teaching technology is a specific discipline, where we no longer focus on the general aspects of information technology like Word processing, internet etiquette, etc. These topics are still relevant, but now extend out to all disciplines of education. For us, teaching Computer Science, web development, Graphic arts, media production, etc. – technology IS the curriculum, not just the delivery system. This then means for us to do justice to our students, we need to have three primary goals:

  1. To engage students in our disciplines by not only introducing it as a discipline, but making it both interesting and relevant
  2. To prepare students for the ‘next level’ of our disciplines, in whatever format that entails – from University/Community college preparedness, to finding innovative ways to continue to learn the discipline post-high, to looking forward to employment opportunities in the discipline
  3. To find ways to connect our discipline to other skill sets that may become relevant to our students in their future lives (job related or not)

This focus and reinforcing anecdotal data from Computer Science student alumni of mine have strengthened my resolve to continue to strive to keep my teaching of Computer Science relevant and tie it to these three goals. This year, my SAGE day inservice was the first in many years that made me feel that I was heading towards that goal. But enough of all that, here’s a video of University of Manitoba Computer Science graduate students making a robot puppet!

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