Today was a good day. It began with a field trip to Reuben H. Fleet Museum in Balboa Park to attend a seminar titled "MySpace or Your Space: A Look At Privacy in Online Forums," set up for us by Shirley. At first, I thought it was going to be a disappointment because the speaker never showed up! However, the person who filled in, a professor of ethics (at USD?) did a great job, and elicited a wide variety of opinions from the students. I am now much better aware of what MySpace is, and more importantly, I think our students became much more aware of the consequences of what they post.
In the afternoon, we had the first session of the Beyond Media Computing thread. We discussed the most basic of questions: what is computer science, what is science, what is engineering, what is a computer, ... I showed several pictures and asked, "Is this a computer?" In addition to a standard PC, I showed images of Stonehenge (credit to Krista for this great idea), a rope, a compass and straight edge, an abacus, a slide rule, and a brain. Various definitions (excellent ones) were proposed for what a computer is by the students, which formed the criteria that would be applied to each of the images in answering the question and giving reasons why this is or is not a computer (and how a computer is distinguished from a calculator). I was extremely impressed with the student responses. This is indeed a very bright bunch. We discussed different types of computers (digital, analog, quantum - with a tangent on quantum mechanics, ...). We also discussed what a computer scientist does, "computational thinking," history of computers and calculation, personalities like Babbage, Lovelace, and Turing, the various areas of computer science, and where I believe computer science is going. If it sounds like a lot, it was! I want the students to see that their preconceptions of our discipline may be quite narrow, and I think it is working.
I am now looking forward to Krista's session on AI on thursday. The students are definitely primed!