Sunday, June 24

UCLA programs respond to rapid growth in computer science field

Increasing demand for coding skills has prompted academic departments to provide more opportunities for students to practice computational thinking.

The interest in programming skills has grown rapidly in both UCLA classes and career fields, said Robert Gould, undergraduate vice chair of the statistics department.

“The need to have people who can work in data has rapidly increased the past 10 years,” Gould said.

Gould is a lead investigator at Mobilize, a UCLA program that aims to teach coding and other technical skills to high school students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. UCLA professors partnered with the school district as part of a nationwide growth in the demand for computational thinking in high school, Gould said.

Paul Eggert, a computer science lecturer, said he thinks the demand for computer science classes has increased because potential employers now consider coding skills to be crucial.

In response to the growing amount of jobs that require software knowledge, the communication studies department will supplement their computing specialization with an applied methods class, said Tim Groeling, chair of the communication studies department. The class will aim to prepare students to analyze data in communications fields.

“Fields that used to be fairly creative now deal with massive piles of data,” Groeling said. “You not only have to come up with the catchy slogans, you have to know how to measure whether it works as the company intends.”

David Smallberg, a computer science lecturer, said more students from other engineering fields recently changed their majors to computer science. Whether they end up working in a computer science-related field, he added, students still benefit from the data analysis skills they learn from computing.

“If all else is equal in the job search, someone with computer competence is going to have an advantage over someone who doesn’t,” Smallberg said.

Smallberg, former vice chair of the UCLA Center X AP Readiness Program, said more LAUSD high schools have been able to offer AP Computer Science. UCLA Center X, which aims to improve public schools, launched the program in 2005 to train educators to teach the class.

LAUSD plans to expand computer science education to each grade by 2020, according to LA School Report.

All students can learn the basics of coding in Program in Computing classes, said Richard Elman, professor and administrative vice chair of the mathematics department. He added the math department has offered PIC classes, which are often requirements for computing specializations in math and psychology, for about 20 years.

“Prior to PIC, there was no way for students in the (College of) Letters and Sciences to be able to learn how to program,” Elman said.

Elman added the program has since expanded to include upper-division classes and more advanced programming languages.

Tesia Zhou, a second-year communication studies student, credits her coding skills to the PIC classes she’s taken.

“If I had exposure to it earlier, I probably would have been less scared going into coding in college,” Zhou said. “More and more people are taking the classes because they find it more valuable to learn coding in a society that’s rapidly developing in technology.”

Smallberg said he thinks all students should learn the basics of computational thinking.

“Basic knowledge of computers used to mean knowing how to use Microsoft Word,” he said. “Now it means being familiar with coding and programming.”

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