MathGroup Archive 2005

[Date Index] [Thread Index] [Author Index]

Search the Archive

Use of CAS in introductory science&engineering courses

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg61606] Use of CAS in introductory science&engineering courses
  • From: carlos at
  • Date: Sun, 23 Oct 2005 05:46:20 -0400 (EDT)
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

There seem to be some confusion in the "Language versus
Library" debate as regards the proper mix of  "computer science"
versus "applied mathematics" in introductory undergraduate
courses.  In my opinion some of the confusion has historical roots.

In the US, computer science (CS) departments did not exist as
individual entities before 1965. (The 1st  was established by George
Forsythe at Stanford, if I remember correctly).  At creation time they
were often spawned from one of two sources:

  Math department  (-> CS becomes part of Arts & Sciences)
  EE department  (-> CS becomes part of Engineering)

If spawned from Math, the original CS tended to have a strong
applied-math + numerical analysis core.  If from EE, they tended to be
"computer engineering" and hardware oriented.

This is an unstable  stage.  It is essential part of human
nature to try to establish an identity.  As a consequence,
CS departments have gradually focused on software: languages,
networks, databases, AI, interfaces, etc., as their core mission.

The result has been a "reverse migration".  Math-oriented academic
types have found  more hospitable homes in science or applied math
departments. For example at Colorado-Boulder a Program in Applied
Mathematics was created in the late 1980s; as of now this is a
department in its own, separate from Mathematics proper.
Hardware oriented types gravitated back to EE or kept joint
appointments.  By now the reconfiguration is approaching
steady-state,  as one can verify by reading faculty position
announcements in CS.

Consequence:  programming service courses taught by CS faculty to
lower division students in engineering and sciences tend to focus on
nuts-and-bolts languages.  In our case, the favorites are C++ and Java
(Fortran disappeared around 1995, C around 2000).  Focus is
programming, data structures and interfaces. Math is incidental;
algorithms are used only as examples. That is the way it is and
will be: wishful talk will not change human nature.

On the other hand, service courses offered by our Applied Math
(for example, the Calculus sequence) do use Mathematica and
similar high level tools in recitations and labs. For obvious reason:
they fit course objectives (=learning Math) better, and programming
becomes incidental.

  • Prev by Date: Re: precision of a measurement (documentation related question)
  • Next by Date: Re: precision of a measurement (documentation related question)
  • Previous by thread: Re: incompatible standard packages
  • Next by thread: Re: Use of CAS in introductory science&engineering courses