Sep 25 2014

Harvard Students Flock to Record-Breaking Computer Science Course

Course popularity shows interest is growing in the field, professor says.

An introductory computer science course at Harvard College broke records this fall, becoming the most-registered-for class at the prestigious institution and proving once again that computer science is among the fastest-growing areas in education,

The course, Computer Science 50, drew 819 undergraduates for the fall semester, according to data released by the college registrar's office. As reported by the college's publication The Harvard Crimson, the number of students enrolled in the course amounts to nearly 12 percent of the entire student body.

The course isn’t just for Harvard students; it’s also available for free through the EdX online course system.

“CS50x teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently. Topics include abstraction, algorithms, data structures, encapsulation, resource management, security, software engineering, and web development. Languages include C, PHP, and JavaScript plus SQL, CSS, and HTML. Problem sets inspired by real-world domains of biology, cryptography, finance, forensics, and gaming," states the EdX course description.

In fall 2013, Computer Science 50 was the second-most-registered-for class, after a basic economics course. Professor David J. Malan told the Crimson that he attributed the increase in enrollment to growing national interest in the field of computer science.

Students are studying to get ahead of an explosion in computer science that’s expected to create more than a million openings in the industry by 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

The interest also has spilled over into K–12 schools. The Chicago Public Schools system announced in December that would make computer science part of its core curriculum, introducing courses at area high schools over the next three years and in kindergarten through eighth grade within five years.

Online startups like One Month and Codecademy have become thriving hubs for code-hungry students looking to bulk up their skills. In May, Codecademy announced 24 million users have taken its free courses.

Meanwhile, efforts to make the field of computer science more attractive to women are under way.

In May, Google released the results of a study showing that women make up only 17 percent of the company’s tech-related workforce. The finding seems to correlate with an industrywide trend. Education Week reports that less than 20 percent of those who took the Advanced Placement computer science exam in 2013 were women.

Now, Google is helping to fund Made with Code, part of a $50 million initiative to help close tech’s gender gap. Microsoft has launched its own endeavors, including the STEM-focused Big Dream Movement and the Microsoft International Women’s Hackathon, in April.


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