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Code U: Computer Coding in the Core Curriculum

Posted by Lori Reese on May 8, 2018 5:30:00 AM
Topics: Higher Ed, ed tech, curriculum

A set of job-ready skills, an income-boost, a promotion, a doorway to the middle class: Students want concrete results from college. How can you ensure your school’s degree will be worth more than the paper it’s printed on?

Code U: Computer Coding in the Core Curriculum

Miami University’s Farmer School of Business has introduced a coding requirement with the goal of giving students a skill with measurable value. The reasoning goes like this: Even if it doesn’t sound like a traditional requirement, coding offers students some of what they learn from typical core classes like writing and mathematics. Proponents say the skill develops problem solving ability, while teaching students how to think computationally. Computational logic and analysis may be necessary for grasping the 21st century world.

“Even those who do not end up writing code in their jobs need to understand the data-driven environment in which companies operate. Having computational thinking ability provides a basis for this understanding and employers know that graduates with basic computational abilities in their toolkits will be able to leverage technology in ways not even thought of yet,” Farmer Professor and Chair of Information Systems and Analytics told Biz Journal.

Because students are more stressed than ever about the cost of school, they’re seeking a return on investment from colleges. A coding requirement could remedy that. Some K-12 schools have begun to introduce coding, because it not only offers students a way to grasp the functioning behind ubiquitous and powerful tools — smartphones, computers, cars — it gives them a skill in high demand.  Coding jobs are growing 12% faster than the market average, according to job analytics firm Burning Glass. Graduates with a computer science degree can make 40% more than average college graduates.

Is coding the new requirement for the school of the future?

A recent Payscale study suggests Farmer’s business students — and others — might benefit from a coding class, but not at the expense of classic courses. The survey questioned 63,924 managers and 14,167 recent graduates about skills recent grads lack most.

Managers said writing is the hard skill recent grads need most. Among soft skills, managers said critical thinking and problem solving were most often missing. The managers believed recent hires needed these skills in order to be qualified for their jobs. By contrast, the graduates deemed themselves well prepared — suggesting they would also benefit from models for healthy self-critique. 

Coding might help with problem solving, but learning how to form a strong sentence comes from years of practice. Students need ample experience with research and verbal debate in order to begin cultivating critical thinking, a skill that takes more than one gen-ed class to develop sufficiently.

In my own teaching experience, I’ve found college students have tremendous difficultly translating skills from one context to another. Students who regularly posted to Facebook and Instagram, for instance, would become lost and helpless when given a simple assignment to start a blog on Blogger. The technologies have a similar interface, but students failed to see connections. When it comes to coding, they might develop proficiency in the class itself, but they would need additional coursework to show them explicitly how to apply those problem-solving skills in a new context.

If you ask the managers in the Payscale study, students aren’t learning enough from their general education requirements as it is. Including coding in the curriculum could be an excellent way to offer students a salient skill, but doubling down on writing and interdisciplinary requirements is also a necessity.

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About Lori Reese

Lori Reese is a writer and an educator with 20 years of experience in higher education teaching.

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