UT should make technology education more accessible

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Photo Credit: Diane Sun | Daily Texan Staff

There are nearly 10 times more computing jobs open right now in the US than there are students who graduated in 2015 with computer science degrees. These jobs often only require a well-cultivated set of technical skills — not necessarily a CS degree. With the demand for technical skills growing, it is important that students can access a technical education.

In order to graduate students with a sophisticated understanding of the digital world, UT should expand resources that make an education in technology accessible.

The main resource that non-computer science majors at UT have to gain exposure to new software and coding skills is the elements of computing certificate. One of the main goals of the certificate program is to “provide students with knowledge of computer science that employers find valuable,” and the coursework helps many students achieve that. However, classes fill up incredibly fast, and as a result, many students struggle fitting all of the required coursework into their schedules.

There is no doubt that the elements of computing certificate is helpful for students. Stephanie K. Cree, a recent UT graduate, knew that for a career in digital arts and media, an advertising degree coupled with the certificate would give her the technical skills that she was looking for. Many students recognize that elements of computing courses help them enter their careers with experience in technology.

The process of getting into these classes during registration can be nerve-racking. Michael Kalwick, a biochemistry sophomore, explains how this makes starting the certificate daunting.

"For the first class, I was 245 out of 296 on the waitlist. For many, it will take a semester or two to even be able to begin the certificate because they are so far down on the waitlist," Kalwick said.

Kalwick says that the inaccessibility of these courses discourages students from exploring the certificate’s opportunities, even if they are passionate about the tech field. He says, “I know many people who have dropped the certificate because of how unlikely they will be able to get into the classes through their last few years.”

Exploring new fields such as computer science as an undergraduate can enable students to find other industries they may thrive in.  Less than 3 percent of high school students in Texas took a computer science course last year. Elements courses can be the first exposure to computer science for many students, and the skills developed in these courses are invaluable. College is the perfect opportunity for students to take a formal computer science class, but the difficulty of doing so at UT turns away potential coders.

The uncertainty and delay that comes with these courses is unacceptable, and UT should look to expand the number of students that can take an elements course in a semester. This can be done by hiring more faculty to teach additional sections or by restructuring these courses to make them available to larger class sizes. Restructuring could include moving portions of the classes online and implementing a flipped-class structure — a proven method of expanding class size — while not compromising quality. The CS department already has core major courses, such as CS 311, that take the flipped class approach, so implementing it would be feasible.

The University should recognize that field of computing is growing in popularity, and if administrators want UT to remain relevant as an institution that graduates prepared students, it needs to modernize its coursework. Expanding the elements of computing certificate takes the first step in giving students eager to learn more about technology the opportunity to do so.

Krishnan is a computer science sophomore from Plano. Follow her on Twitter @theamazingabby