Georgia Tech is among the institutions that are shifting away from computer science and choosing to focus on more specific fields, like bioengineering and robotics, the Chronicle said. Robotics students at Georgia Tech “spent the semester teaching robots to draw shapes, to chirp on command and to navigate obstacle courses,” the publication noted.

Tucker Balch, an associate professor at Georgia Tech, told the AP that the course is an attempt to combat “prime number” syndrome. That disease, he said, afflicts computer science departments that typically ask newcomers to write dull programs performing mathematical algorithms.

Edit:

Yes, I am an alumnus of the Georgia Institute of Technology. BEE’83, MSEE’85, PhDEE’90. I only took one course in Robotics, and that one had no hands-on content – all theory. Glad to see things are changing.

I never thought of prime numbers as being especially dull, but I will agree that building and programming robots is much more interesting.

Random thought: if you’ve built a robot that can draw shapes, it might be interesting to have it draw spirographs; i.e., periodic functions plotted in polar coordinates, with angular periodicity based on ratios of prime numbers so they take many revolutions to repeat, and end up describing flower-like patterns.

So smart, Richard. I didn’t understand much of what you just said. I guess that’s why I got a C in College Algebra… Applied Calculus, here I come!

That is interesting, though. I know that Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, IA has a robotics specific course, too. “Robotics and Automation” I think is what it’s named.

I think it’s awesome that they are figuring out more creative ways to teach computer science. But I don’t really think there’s anyway to ever remove programming or mathematics from Computer Science.
Computer Science is and always will be a very mathematically intensive field, not so much math as in vector calc or diff eqs, but more discrete math and logic/proof oriented math. It may be nice to have an intro class that is very broadly appealing and fun, but once in the major there is no way to escape algorithms or mathematics and complexity theory.

“More than a dozen universities have created “media computation” programs, which hope to introduce students to computer science through digital art and Web design, not traditional programming, according to the Associated Press.”

I kind of cringe at presenting ‘digital art’ and ‘web design’ as computer science because that’s not really what the field is about, if they want to introduce people to webdesign or art that’s great but labeling it Computer Science is kind of misleading. People often ask if CS is about “making webpages” and it’s really alot more complicated than that. In fact even “programming” is not what computer science really is. I guess the best way to look at is almost a branch of math with a focus on solving problems with some engineering stuff thrown in.

I started at GT as a Computer Engineer before I realised that it was like the hardware version of Computer Science. 2nd and 3rd year classes are particularly dull, and the interactive (and freakin HARD) labs don’t start until 4th year. In my 3rd year I swapped to EE since I wanted a control systems-oriented engineering degree and have never looked back. I even took some of the embedded systems classes required for CE’s so I still got both worlds. BSEE '05.

That said, you probably know that control systems require tons of algorithmic math, and I am a Math Freak. While this news is great in some respects, I think that programming math algorithms for a bit really helps programmers understand how to take theory to code. Robotics helps them take some design that has specific requirements to code. If you’ve ever done research that requires programming, often times you’ll find that there is a HUGE difference between the two. So long as they keep (even the intro) classes to the former, this is a great idea.

How else would anyone be inspired to take a mathematical algorithm (such as Collatz Theorem), program it and graph it for fun, then try to reverse, sideways, and upside down engineer it to figure out how to use a pattern found in a “pretty picture” created from the graphs? That is true Computer Science. Otherwise you’re simply repeating something that someone else came up with.

I do know that. Controls was one of my coursework areas for the MS and PhD, and there is a chapter on controls in my dissertation.

Math freaks rule.

I agree – and so did people who ran the EE department at GT when I was there. I imagine they still feel that way today, and probably there are similar feelings in the CS department. I hope the robotics course is aimed at 1st and 2nd year students, as a way to inspire them into the field by showing the kind of project work that is possible.

Inspiration is the starting point, but it won’t replace the hard work required to get the skills needed to attack the details of an engineering challenge.