From Mark Guzdial’s Blog today:
I think this is pretty interesting but I can’t say I’m surprised.
Given the experiences I’ve had with what the majority of CS professors/instructors teach, my first reaction is that a chief reason this is happening is that the teachers are driving students away with what and how they are teaching.
I know there are exceptions (I was one) but most teachers (and most texts) are geared towards the selection of people just like the teachers, and these are, for the most part, *not* the people we want to be attracting now.
I’d love to see some in-depth analysis of people who quit CS degrees before they finish. I’ve had far too many highly talented students tell me they ended up NOT finishing their CS degrees. After taking my 1st year class, they were excited about the possibilities and inspired to discover more, but then after 2-3 years of typical CS drudgery they just couldn’t take it any more. Typical CS drudgery includes: drier than toast theory (with no visible practical application); software engineering that throws people into groups without teaching them how to work in groups, and which seems primarily preoccupied with administration and reports as opposed to solving problems; professors who themselves can no longer write any code (if they ever could); faculty who are focused on that next publication rather than on creating interesting and authentic work for their students.
In response, Mark posted this link:
Have you seen Maureen Bigger’s paper on stayers-vs-leavers in CS: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1352135.1352274&coll=DL&dl=GUIDE&CFID=33799859&CFTOKEN=30789268
It’s an interesting paper. I have to wonder if the boys tend not to comment on feelings of belonging and friendliness because doing so might be perceived as ‘whimpy’?
Most of the reasons for leaving could easily be attributed to what and how students are taught as well as the class or departmental culture.
CS is not alone here – I think most established disciplines tend to draw people who are like themselves and to dispossess those who aren’t. It takes a conscious effort to counteract this – it may well be a totally natural human tribal thing. Also, there seems to be an unwritten academic golden rule that comes into force when someone becomes an instructor: “I shall do to you what was done to me”. Those who choose to do things differently are the exception. Those who had mentors with uncommon talent for teaching are rarer still.
After all – the notion of average applies to faculty just like everything else – and nearly half are always going to be below average.
I think one thing that makes CS different is that the nature of the discipline has changed quite radically in the last decade or two, but the faculty, programs, and courses have not. We need to attract a different kind of person from those who are currently running things. That isn’t going to happen so long as those who are currently running things are allowed to teach what and how they’ve always taught.