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In praise of computer science expansion, UA professors says discipline as important to teach as dissecting a frog

Dr. Jeff Gray, professor of computer science at The University of Alabama, applauds recent announcement to expand computer science curriculum in New York City, which also comes after a similar initiative was announced in the state of Arkansas.

Gray is a national leader in computer science education, recognized around the country for his work.

This past year he was recognized as one of three national Distinguished Educators by the Association for Computing Machinery, the first from the state of Alabama to receive the designation. He is also a member of the 10-person Education Advisory Panel for Code.org, an influential advocacy group for computer science education.

With several National Science Foundation grants, Gray has worked with the College Board and NSF as a pilot instructor to craft a new Advanced Placement computer-science course designed to increase secondary and post-secondary educational interest in computer science and improve collegiate preparation for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) awareness.

With support from Google, Code.org and the NSF, Gray has worked to train elementary and secondary teachers to incorporate computer science into their curriculum. He hosts an annual Alabama Robotics Competition for grades K-12, along with summer computer camps for similarly aged students.

“The recent announcements by the state of Arkansas and New York City to introduce computer science into all of their high schools is a great step forward that recognizes the growing importance of computing in everyday life. Software is everywhere, and computing has the potential to positively impact all sciences and engineering areas, as well as many areas of daily life.

“Computer science as a foundational core is as important to learn now as any physical or life science, yet computer science is not taught in the overwhelming majority of schools. There’s as much need for students to know the details of how their personal communications are encrypted over the internet as there is to know how to dissect a frog. Think about how many times each day teenagers send emails, surf the web, play games and interact with technology frequently, yet they don’t have a clue about how any of it works. This not only reduces their opportunity to participate in future career choices, but also can make them vulnerable to privacy and security concerns when using new technology.

“Teaching ‘true’ computer science, and not just learning how to us Microsoft Office, brings new technical skills and problem solving strategies to the classroom. Alabama was one of the first states to add the new Computer Science Principles curriculum as a math graduation elective, but we have much more progress to make as other states begin to raise the bar further in availability across their school districts.”

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,800 students and more than 130 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.