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The value of an arts degree in teaching computer science

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 15 October 2019, 8:17 am

An Arts degree can be a useful qualification if you are pursuing a career in the field of software development. That's according to Andrew Luxton-Reilly, Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Auckland.

Luxton-Reilly has just been awarded a National Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award, which recognises his approach to teaching computer science. After completing a BA and MA(Hons) in Philosophy, focusing on the philosophy of mind and language, he completed a BSc in Computer Science, and a PhD in the field of Computer Science Education.

"My background meant I learned to think broadly and critically about the history of ideas and society, the importance of being able to define and critique two sides of an argument and that has been invaluable in my teaching," he says in an announcement from the University about his latest recognition.

Luxton-Reilly's research is in computer science education and is focused on techniques and technologies that support the development of learning communities. He is also interested in how novice programmers can be most effectively supported in their learning, how to teach computing effectively at schools, game-based learning of computing concepts, how to teach debugging, automated assessment, and gender and diversity in Computer Science.

According to the announcement, "Luxton-Reilly's influence on the school has been significant, with reflective scholarly practice and ideas about ethical practice and social value embedded through course resources and the curriculum. He strives to create a safe and inclusive learning environment based on mutual respect. One effective way to do that is to talk about his own whanau and how that has influenced his own world view."

"It is all aimed at producing computer scientists who understand that their work is not just technical but has a wider social context."

Of particular note is Luxton-Reilly's view that students need to understand the social implications of software design so that it can be understood by other people and also to consider the inherent bias in what they are doing.

This latter point is extremely valid, and one of the best arguments for programmes that promote diversity in computer science. As technology becomes more entrenched in everyday lives, it has to be user-centric (as opposed to machine-centric). It follows that different perspectives can result in the creation of more useful and beneficial solutions.

"Hopefully we convey to students that computer science is not just about technology but also about culture and values," Luxton-Reilly says.



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