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Re: Use of CAS in introductory science&engineering courses

  • To: mathgroup at
  • Subject: [mg61623] Re: Use of CAS in introductory science&engineering courses
  • From: Richard Fateman <fateman at>
  • Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2005 01:44:04 -0400 (EDT)
  • Organization: University of California, Berkeley
  • References: <djfnco$avq$>
  • Sender: owner-wri-mathgroup at

carlos at wrote:

> 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).

The first Department of Computer Sciences in the United States was established
at Purdue University in October 1962 according to

   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. 

Not my impression.  I think that ones originating from math
tended to have a strong abstract math flavor, e.g.
abstract families of (formal) languages, automata theory,
theory of computability. Numerical analysis contributes
but is not a focus.  Applications (e.g. applied physics)
is small.   UC Berkeley's computer science (in the
College of Letters and Sciences) started that way.

  If from EE, they tended to be
> "computer engineering" and hardware oriented.
UC Berkeley had one of those, too, until they merged in
about 1972, and EE&CS became one department. The EE
contribution included things like "systems" and "optimization"

> 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.

I guess we are in agreement about this: Atica does not sell here.
> 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.

Learning Atica or mathematica is not usually a core objective in a calculus course.
At UC Berkeley, the history of the calculus labs seems to be that
if the instructor is a fan of some computer algebra system X, then
that is used. The next year it is CAS Y, etc.
For some schools the choice is made for a handheld graphing
calculator.   Given the kind of usage .. a few commands, a few
plots, I suspect not much harm is done to most students.... since those
who go on to programming (or have previous programming
contact) will see other languages too.


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