Discover the possibilities of computer science through hands-on learning
Computer science is about creative problem solving. Computer scientists are keen to know: how does this system work, and how can I make it better? The best computer science education helps students, from various academic backgrounds, to develop into professionals who can both ask these questions and, more importantly, can create solutions.
The BSc Computer Science developed by the University of London and Goldsmiths is designed to do just that. The BSc degree has a large online component, supplemented by tutorial support either online or at a teaching centre. In the wake of the pandemic, most universities will be delivering hybrid virtual and in-person programmes this coming autumn as a necessary afterthought. The University of London programme is designed with the internet learning in mind.
Our graduates build things. They build software, they can hack, they can write code. They are happy to go find new technologies, engage with them and apply them.
Developing computer scientists through a largely online programme presents a particular challenge. This challenge drives Dr Matthew Yee-King, convenor of the programme. He is internationally known and has been teaching like this for ten years, is an international research leader on online teaching techniques and has innovated or overseen the innovation of many new teaching techniques.
We spoke with Dr Yee-King about what makes this degree unique, the thought behind its design, and the kinds of students it attracts.
This is not your traditional computer science degree with its heavy-handed emphasis on maths formal computing systems.
“This programme is really about teaching people to make stuff,” Dr Yee-King explains. He wants students to leave with an understanding of theory but, more importantly, with a strong new skill set.
“Our graduates build things. They build software, they can hack, they can write code. They are happy to go find new technologies, engage with them and apply them.”
In true tech style, the design of the course itself is iterative. The team uses advanced data analysis techniques to evaluate every teaching and assessment innovation they make. They use the results to continually rethink and refresh the teaching. By the way, you can learn the analysis technique in year three of the programme.
The team is passionate about learning how to teach better and how to teach to learners with a wider range of backgrounds. “We have a lot of experience in developing courses and ways of learning that serve a wide range of people. This is vital. If we’re going to welcome a diversity of people, we need to serve diverse needs.”
And the programme is getting creative to serve them. One programming module, Dr Yee-King explains, is set up as a detective game where students apply coding skills to solve a series of clues. Framing lessons as games and puzzles not only makes content more engaging, it helps unite the technical lessons with exercises in skills of problem solving and critical thinking.
“We launched the degree in 2019,” says Dr Yee-King. “We’d been working with Coursera to design innovative online courses since 2013, and Goldsmiths has been doing distance learning since the 1980s. There’s a real history of it here and it’s a process we’ve been able to develop and improve over time.”
One of those lessons has been the importance of some face-to-face contact. This year, the programme will be included at a series of remote campuses across the world with lecturers to support students locally. Students will have the option to be entirely web-supported or to access the teaching centres.
Goldsmiths specialises in degrees in games design and VR so the applied focus of the degree and these specialisms reflects the heritage of the institution.
Currently, the degree is organised over three levels which are mapped to a typical three-year British degree. The first two levels offer a broad base knowledge and in the third level, students can choose a specialism. These are essentially a collection of modules that work together to provide a comprehensive understanding of a specific area within computer science.
Due to its flexible nature, students can take as many years as they wish to complete the degree and 75% of our students are currently employed full-time.
“We have a real range of ages but there’s a strong section of older students who are looking for a concrete skill set to apply to their work or switch their career.”
Career development and the real-world context of computing is a foundational component of every module. That’s why the degree’s specialisms were specifically chosen and developed based on their career prospects and potential for growth as well as their market fit. Coursera, an online learning platform with nearly 40 million users, offered great statistical insight into what people wanted to specialise in based on the popularity of other courses.
Resilience. Being able to adapt to different situations and technologies. These are important qualities in a computer scientist. We must learn to be flexible and unbiased as new technologies come up. That’s the way it is in the real world.
But in true tech style, the curriculum itself is iterative. Dr Yee-King says they are likely to change or create new specialisms and modules as the industry changes.
Current specialisms include artificial intelligence, data science, user experience, and the internet of things, while the most popular specialisms are web development and machine learning.
“Goldsmiths specialises in degrees in games design and VR so the applied focus of the degree and these specialisms reflects the heritage of the institution.”
Technology touches every aspect of human life in the modern world, and Dr Yee-King is on a mission to dispel the myth that computer science is only for the ‘technically-minded.’
“Anyone can learn computer science,” he asserts. “I think there is this perception that you have to be a certain kind of person. But with the right way of learning and with the right courses, it really can be for anyone.”
“I think traditionally in computing we have seen self-selection from a mathematics background. This is something we are continually working on.”
Compared to a traditional computing department, we’ve really made strides in our diversity ratios. We have more women and more ethnic diversity, but also different academic backgrounds and ages.
To live up to this value of accessibility, Dr Yee-King is proud of the BSc Computer Science’s performance-based admissions option. For those students long out of education with a decade or two of work on their CV, there is a maths and programming entry module. If they pass these classes, they can be admitted to the degree like anyone else.
“Some of the best students we’ve had have come through this route,” Dr Yee-King says. “When you open this field up to everyone, what you find are some incredible gems. For me, what that shows is that there are people out there who have ended up, for various reasons, without access to computer science but who have a real aptitude for it. Students come in with limited life options and exit with great jobs.”
Because computing is about problem solving, it's critical to have people from different backgrounds who naturally approach issues from individual angles. Dr Yee-King thinks one of the biggest challenges in the field of computer science is diversity- and it’s one arena where Goldsmiths is leading the charge.
“Compared to a traditional computing department, we’ve really made strides in our diversity ratios. We have more women and more ethnic diversity, but also different academic backgrounds and ages. I’ve watched that really develop in the time that I have been here.”
Ultimately, Dr Yee-King says he wants to create a future of computer scientists who are driven by good values, who feel confident that they understand the systems that they are using and to be brave in creating their own solutions that serve not just commercial interests but also human ones.
“We don’t want them to be stuck using the first coding language they learned or to be afraid of new things. Resilience. Being able to adapt to different situations and technologies. These are important qualities in a computer scientist. We must learn to be flexible and unbiased as new technologies come up. That’s the way it is in the real world.”
If you are interested in exploring the BSc Computer Science degree and how it can serve your career, you can access the first four weeks of coursework for free on Coursera.