Wednesday, January 7, 2009

From Research to Teaching and Outreach

In my previous post I talked about research in CS, one of the goals of research is to advance our understanding in a specific area. IMHO, there are at least three different "frontiers" of understanding:
  1. expertise of other researchers/practitioner in the area (the usual sense of research)
  2. level of understanding attained by undergraduates in the area (teaching)
  3. public or layman understanding/appreciation of the area (outreach)
Both teaching and outreach are important to the development of a field because it expands the talent pool and imparts modes of thinking that are peculiar to the area. In recent years, there is push to promote Computational Thinking as a fundamental skill, on equal terms with reading, writing, and arithmetic.

I've helped out at the NUS SoC open house booth for the last two years, and a recurring problem is that most folks have no clue as to what we do in Computing. I think the Europeans got it right when they used the term "Informatics" instead of "Computer Science". As Dijkstra wrote in EWD 682, "we don't call painting "brush art", nor surgery "knife science"". Incidentally, Dijkstra is probably one of the earliest bloggers, he started to send his writings to colleagues by regular mail, before the advent of the Internet. Now, you can view his writings at the EWD Archive.

I tend to like to use the term "Information Engineering", which puts the emphasis on the object of our study, information, and away from the tool we use, the computer. Most people tend to have a better sense of what is engineering, it is about building useful things. In computing, we design algorithms and build software to manage/process information.

Do you have some simple way to describe what we do in Computing to the layman? Do share your ideas/suggestions in the comments.

1 comment:

juliana said...

Yes, the painting analogy is spot on in my opinion! Although the essence of painting does not lie in studying the brush, knowing the brushes (which to use for specific purposes, the effects different brushes give, brush care...) is just as important. Normally I tell people that CS is about solving problems a certain way, with extensive use of computing machines as a tool to us solving those problems. And I don't forget to add too that that is only the core of CS - the applications are abundant!