Liberal Arts and Computer Science, Hand-in-Hand

CHANGING CURRICULA: Computer science hasn’t been a staple of curricula at many small liberal arts colleges, but that’s changing. Bates College, a liberal arts institution in Maine, announced it’s including CS courses in one of its interdisciplinary majors, reflecting a perspective that learning to code can be an “enabler” for other disciplines.

The college’s new concentration in “digital and computational studies” will encompass aspects of digital humanities and computer science, Matthew R. Auer, Bates’ dean of the faculty and vice president of academic affairs, told Inside Higher Ed. Instead of strictly computer science, Bates will strive to provide a program “inclusive of the notion that we’re dealing with the visualization of data [and] big data,” Auer explained.

Students in the new major must take foundational computer science courses, but they will also have the choice to specialize in areas like artificial intelligence and big data or to choose a path through different departments or majors. Students who explore other departments might, for example, study data visualization in a chemistry course or textual analysis in a literature course. The college will launch the program in 2017, with a full major rolling out in 2018-19.

As computer science has entered the national spotlight—most prominently through the White House’s $4 billion “Computer Science for All” initiative—so has discussion on what exactly about it should be taught. Bates’ new liberal arts program, and others like it, could play a role in that conversation.

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