Obligatory Computer Courses for College Students

Introduction

Nowadays, computers have become an integral part of our lives. They are used everywhere – starting from college libraries, where they are utilized to read books and articles, going through companies and governments, where people store and process vast amounts of data using them, and finishing with homes, where people relax, watch movies, play games or read news with their help. The fact that computers have become literally ubiquitous demands that people possess at least basic computer skills. But this is the very minimum requirement; a person who really wishes to more than just survive in the contemporary world should be able to use the computer at a more advanced level. It is also very much recommended that an individual not only knows basic and some advanced computer tricks but is also able to use the digital tool in their field of expertise. Therefore, if the educational system exists to prepare a person for the next-coming “adult” life, it is our firm belief that computer science classes should be made obligatory for all college students.

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Background

Although many students nowadays have basic computer skills, many of them even possess a computer, various studies indicate that not every one of them can utilize the digital tool at a professional level. For instance, Smith et al., having conducted a research among agriculture students, found out that, despite the fact that, for example, the vast majority of them (87.2%) owned a computer, more than a half of them had never received any instruction in programming (45, 49). The study also found that the learners were “deficient in all areas covered by the questionnaire” employed during the research, “especially in database use, spreadsheet use, file management, and word processing” (Smith et al. 50).

Another research conducted by Goode has shown that there exists a division between students the criterion for which is the access to technology (498-499). Definitely, this division is a consequence of inequality that exists in society; for instance, “gender, race, socioeconomic status, primary language, geographic location, (dis)ability, educational level and generational characteristics are associated with disparities in access to and use of technology” (Goode 498). Therefore, the dearth of computing knowledge can be further exacerbated by the structural problems of our society, and the absence of college computing courses means that the people who had little chance to learn computing due to social inequity might suffer further while studying in college.

Why Are Computer Science Courses Useful for All Students?

The first argument we wish to present is related to the purpose of computers and the purpose of education. It is clear that the educational system exists to provide learners with high-quality information in a systematized fashion in order to help them build their own knowledge in the field they wish to pursue, as well as teach them how to find proper information themselves. On the other hand, what is the computer for? The computer is for (finding,) storing and processing information. In fact, it is one of the most powerful tools which work with information the humanity has ever invented. Therefore, it is logical that colleges should teach their students to use this instrument properly. As the colleges are supposed to provide their students with advanced rather than just basic knowledge in the field they pursue, they also ought to give the learners adequate means to further use the knowledge they received, the specific means that they are not always likely to discover themselves. It is clear, thus, that colleges should teach their students some advanced computing and programming skills. (Besides, the respective courses ought to be specially designed for use by the learners of that particular college program; for instance, sociology students would beyond doubt benefit from courses which explain databases and at least basic programming).

Our second argument is connected to the enhanced opportunities of those who have completed at least a basic programming course. It is paramount for everyone to understand how effectively data can be manipulated using the computer. At least basic skill in programming can allow them to save tremendous amounts of time and effort while processing information. Besides, what is of crucial importance here is that once a person has learned some basic skills, implemented them in practice at least a few times, and thus was able to see the effectiveness of it, this person will know where to look for data procession tools in the future. While an individual who has never undergone such experience will simply not know about this possibility, a person who used programming at least a few times will much more likely be able to recognize the pattern and know where to look. Thus, by teaching learners at least basic programming, colleges are able to significantly expand the horizons of their students and provide them with much broader self-education opportunities in the future.

And, finally, it is clear that advanced computer skills can provide a person with much better employment opportunities. A person who not only possesses knowledge in their professional field but also knows how to better implement it in order to operate with vast amounts of data is much more likely to find employment in today’s informational world. An individual who has taken at least basic programming courses can use these skills in their future projects and jobs (Libeskind-Hadas par. 4). Besides, having been given a good enough perspective on programming, a person is able to study it further, which might even prove an employment opportunity on its own. As the computer has definitely become a universal tool nowadays and is used almost in all branches of industry, possessing computer skills makes an individual much more flexible in terms of employment.

Why Should Computer Science Courses Be Obligatory?

Thus, we have seen that even basic programming courses can be most useful for students who advance in a vast number of fields of study, which means that e.g. medical schools should teach their students computer science. But why should basic programming courses be compulsory?

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We have already cited the research by Smith et al., who show that many students do not possess the adequate computing skills. Clearly, most of the sample of that study never “received instruction in computer programming”, which is perhaps due to the fact that their college never offered one (Smith et al. 49). Libeskind-Hadas offers to introduce basic computing courses as optional, also stating that most students vote for these courses “with their feet” (par. 7); this is a good option (and, obviously, much better than nothing). However, it is clear that offering such introductory courses as optional for all the college students might often mean that the course stays the same for learners from different fields of study (which also is the case with the experience of Libeskind-Hadas (par. 7)). On the contrary, we have mentioned that it is better to offer specific courses for each area of study, for such courses would take into account the peculiarities of the field and thus are very much likely to prove more useful to the students. Making programming courses a part of each program, instead of just offering them as a general option, should help to provide specific courses for every college program.

Furthermore, we have also mentioned that some students suffer from e.g. social inequality, and have seen that, for instance, race or gender are often associated with the level of access to various technologies (Goode 498). Therefore, offering computing courses would be especially helpful to e.g. Black students, who seldom have a personal computer in comparison to learners of other races (Goode 498); but making these courses obligatory would ensure that all the students indeed take these courses, and not avoid enrolling in them e.g. due to some kind of shyness or fear that they might know less about computing than their peers. Therefore, it is apparent that obligatory computer science courses might very well add to the aim of promoting social equality, at least for the students who were able to enter a college.

Possible Objections

It can be said that making computing courses compulsory has its disadvantages. For instance, students who attend such courses will have to spend time and effort on them, thus having less time to study their main subject. Another possible objection is that computer science might be difficult for learners who have chosen to pursue a subject that is completely unrelated to hard/exact sciences. And, finally, it might be noted that perhaps not every student has their own PC.

These objections have their grounds, but they can be rebutted. First, while students will have to spend time on computer science, this cost is worth the outcome. We can see that computers are already virtually ubiquitous; it is clear that in the future they will enter even more spheres of human activity, and a specialist without computer skills will have much fewer opportunities in their life. Second, we have already mentioned that these courses, being made a part of the curriculum, should be adjusted to the specifics of the field of study the student advances in. This should make it easier for the learners of non-exact areas of study, as the course will be tailor-made for them (and their peers). And, third, we have also noted that before colleges introduce obligatory courses, they should be able to provide their students with computers, and, therefore, such courses will, on the contrary, promote social equality and soften the adverse effects of a student’s not having a PC. Therefore, the possible negative results are either exceed by the positive outcomes or are neutralized by some structural characteristics of obligatory courses.

Conclusion

As we have seen, not all college students possess even basic computing skills, and computer science courses for all the learners would provide numerous benefits. They would allow for better and more effective learning, broaden the student’s horizons, and significantly enhance employment opportunities in the future. While optional courses are definitely far much better than nothing at all, making them compulsory would allow for tailor-made courses for all the fields of study, and even are likely to soften the adverse effects of social inequality. As such courses are also worth the time spent on them, and the possible disadvantages are probable to be negated, it is evident that computer science courses should be made obligatory for all college students.

Works Cited

Goode, Joanna. “The Digital Identity Divide: How Technology Knowledge Impacts College Students.” New Media & Society 12.3 (2010): 497-513. SAGE Journals. Web.

Libeskind-Hadas, Ran. Every College Student Should Take a Computer Science Course. 2015. Web.

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Smith, James H., Vanessa Villareal, Cindy Akers and Jacqui Haygood. “Computer Knowledge, Skills, and Experiences of Students Enrolled in Undergraduate Courses in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.” NACTA Journal 48.1 (2004): 45-51. ProQuest. Web.

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