Just What is Computer Science?

Just what is computer science? Is it a science course? Is it a math course? Is it a business course?
These questions pop up more frequently now that states are requiring four years of science and math. In Texas, the AP CS A course counts as a math and is offered by both the math and business departments but this has raised questions about who can teach AP CS A. In Georgia, AP CS A is offered in the business department. Several years ago there was a move to allow only business teachers to teach it, but I asked that all certified teachers be allowed to teach it, and this was approved.
When Georgia started requiring four years of math and science, some of the faculty at Georgia Tech asked that AP CS A be allowed to count as a math or science. As of fall 2008 it was approved that AP CS A could count as a science course. However, this fall the Georgia Board of Regents removed it from the list of approved science courses, but they had not done a formal review of the course. Georgia Tech asked for a formal review of the AP CS A course and we just learned that the Board of Regents will allow the AP CS A course to count as a math or a science course!
But what is computer science, really? Some people claim that it isn’t a science, even though the title includes the word science, since it isn’t a study of the natural world like biology, chemistry, or physics. But inheritance, which is one of the central ideas in object-oriented programming, was first formally used in the scientific classification of plants. And, these days all of the natural sciences are becoming more and more dependent on computing. One famous biologist has said, “that biology is becoming a branch of computer science”.
Some say computer science is a branch of applied math. And certainly many of the people who created and programmed early computers were mathematicians. And, many mathematicians now depend on computers in their work. Computing does include many mathematical concepts, but it also covers many other concepts such as how to design and build computer systems.
Some say it is a type of engineering. My master’s degree from the University of Michigan was from the computer science and engineering department. Certainly the creation and testing of software systems includes engineering concepts. But, again computer science isn’t just engineering.
Certainly computers are used in business. One reason that Wall-mart has succeeded is that it gathers sales information from all of its stores every night and uses this data to improve operations and lower costs. Nearly all businesses are dependent on computers.
I think that the real truth is that there are connections between computer science and many fields such as science, math, psychology, engineering, and business.
What do you think?
Barb Ericson
CSTA Board of Directors

One thought on “Just What is Computer Science?

  1. Since many universities include CS in their math departments, I believe that seconday schools should follow their lead. I have my BS in CS and was laid off from my IT job in 2005 after 17 years. I recently completed my BS in Math Ed and would like to become certified to teach AP CS. I can’t seem to find recent info on how to accomplish this. Help?!

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