Want to know something cool?

One point of view, taking note of sundry "cool" things that affect-- or could affect-- the education business.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Software Teaching Software Development

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is bustin' a move to build enrollment in computer science. Having used Alice, a now-outdated application, for ten years, the university is turning to one of the world's most popular game developers for help. (News item at CMU site here.)

Teaching program Alice's current version is short on animation of any kind, using just a few public-domain images of characters from Lewis Carroll's novel. The school originally chose Alice as a theme in a nod to the novelist's knack for explaining complex things in simple ways.

Now, CMU is turning to EA Games, a developer known for realistic animation in such classics as Madden NFL Football and NBA Live, to pump up the jam on the computer science program. EA jumped in hard, seeing the new Alice 3.0 as a means to an end for themselves as well.

(Click the link to read the rest of this post ... )

"EA is very seriously committed to having a workforce that is not all white males," said CMU computer science professor Randy Pausch, who directs the software project. "Everybody says that. This is EA's way of proving it."

The cool part is that EA and CMU are turning to the Sims, a wildly popular franchise for the game maker, to draw interest in development from non-traditional demographics ... particularly girls.

CMU makes Alice available free as a public service to build interest in computer science among high school and college students. Now, the Sims characters will actually go into teaching some of the basics, hoping to draw more students by making code cool again.

According to a UCLA study conducted in 2005, enrollment in US computer science has dropped 50 percent in the past 5 years. Meanwhile, the job market continues to grow for qualified geeks. Says Jared M. Roberts, managing director of the Pittsburgh Technology Council to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, "Over the past year we have seen a spike in job postings to both the local Java and .NET User Groups. This helps support the idea that more developer-type IT jobs are available in the region and individuals with programming backgrounds are in demand." (Article here.)

Software-generated avatars teaching software development ... cool, huh?


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