Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Proof You Don't Need to Stick to Just MS Office for Arts and Social Science Students

My arts and social science students expected a relatively easy class that mostly taught them the ins and outs of Microsoft Office software.  They were probably pretty surprised when I told them I was going to teach them some computer science instead.  I definitely pushed them intellectually, but they rose to the challenge, and many walked away with a new found interest in computing they never expected to have.


Now that the collection of my course feedback for these arts and social science students has slowed down (and maybe stopped), I figured I could now share some of the interesting results.  Between the comments made in my informal survey and the grades the students have so far on what was by no means an "easy" exam, one can only conclude that there is absolutely no reason to stick to MS Office for a course like this.  Their grades don't plummet, and I'd be willing to bet that many of the profs who have taught this course before would be surprised to see what kinds of questions the students were able to answer.

One of the biggest wins for me, though, was actually sparking some interest in creating technology. A few of the female students told me how excited they were about using Scratch and were going to be teaching their kids, grandkids, or siblings how to use it.  Many also said they wanted to take more programming classes.  One male student told me he was considering switching altogether to computer science, and I managed to hook him up with a research assistant position with one of our HCI profs.

On the survey, I asked: Are you more likely to consider taking other programming classes (including outside of school, like the Girl Develop It program) or switching to computer science after taking this class?

Here are the results for the 21 people that completed the survey:
  • No, I am not likely to take any other programming or computer science classes: 10
  • Yes, I am now more likely to take other programming or computer science classes: 9
  • I want to. But there is no free elective for the first year: 1
  • Maybe/unsure: 1
That's about half of the respondents admitting they are interested in pursuing the topic further.  But even if not everyone wants to learn more about computer science or programming in particular, it seems many feel more confident in their computer abilities, which I also see as a win.

I asked: By the end of the course, I feel my confidence in using computers has increased.

The responses:
  • Strongly agree: 7
  • Agree: 8
  • Neutral / don't know: 5
  • Disagree: 1
  • Strongly disagree: 0
Much more than half felt they were better at using computers!

I got a lot of insight into some of the topics I chose for the course and other aspects of how the course was run, but I'll save that analysis for another day.  I still consider the course a work in progress, and my next step is to get all profs to teach some of the topics I cover, and if possible, to update the course calendar description.

I'll close this post with some of my favourite comments left in the free-text areas:
  • "It was not exactly what I was expecting but it was a challenge for me because Im terrible with any science, formulas or computers and this course helped me confront that. Im happy I took this class."
  • "I liked that this class gave a 'human' approach to computers and that we covered multiple topics."
  • "HCI was beyond what I thought computer sciences was. It gave such a meaningful and human approach to computer I never thought I would see."
  • "The videos were also a lot of fun to watch and an added bonus to learning in a more interactive way. Guest speakers were also cool."
  • "I liked how we learned a bit of everything ie. programming, word etc."
  • "I like our instructor both she and the last speaker helped me think about computer science as a more attainable area to understand and be a part of.  I enjoyed playing around in scratch."
  • "I loved all the guest speakers! Thank you for having such a great possitive attitude. I never though I would gain any computer skills and I now have a new passion for it.By far this is the best elective I took at Carleton. It was extremely valuable and helpful. Thank you for all the help! I'm looking forward to taking more computer classes or workshops. Not only has this class helped me with computer skills but it has inspired me in many other aspects. Thanks a bunch!"


Peter said...

Please do post your insight into the curriculum - in fact, please post a summary of the curriculum. I suppose you could just post a link to the syllabus, for starters. I'm grateful that there is support for the idea that people of all disciplines can learn about CS.

Gail Carmichael said...

I have last year's course info online here, and I'll be posting this year's in the next few weeks (still getting through exam grading). This year's syllabus is available as well.

Assistant said...

What else did you teach them? I know when I got to the university we had in-design classes available, for free, and I wish i would have taken more.


Gail Carmichael said...

Check out the links at the beginning of the article - they describe a lot of what was in the course.

Gail Carmichael said...

For those still interested, I have now posted this year's course content on my website:

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