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Excitement deficit disorder

Much of the talk about increasing interest in science or technology
among students has focused on the economic factors, such as numbers of
good job opportunities for graduates. A recent article in The American,
a contrarian Web-based publication, reports on research done by
Microsoft that suggests for computer science at least, money may not be
everything.

The article says that Bill Gates, founder and CEO of
Microsoft Corporation, often says Microsoft is in "the IQ business",
which means for the company to succeed, Microsoft has to attract the
best brainpower. Since the end of the Internet boom in the 1990s, the
number of computer science majors has fallen by half, and Microsoft
Research — its in-house research labs — turned to the problem of how
to attract more of the best and brightest brains to careers in computer
science.

The investigators at Microsoft Research identified the
usual economic factors, but also discovered another culprit: the way
most universities teach computer science. Nick Schultz, the article’s
author, quotes the Microsoft lead research program manager who says the
typical computer science class "turns kids off almost immediately."
Introductory courses often focus on theoretical principles and code
syntax, with little practical to show for their studies.

To remedy this excitement deficit, Microsoft partnered with Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and Georgia Tech to develop an inexpensive programmable robot
for first-year computer science students.  The robot responds to basic
commands written in code that students can write quickly. Students can
then write more sophisticated code for the robots to do more complex
tasks.

This fall, the robot’s developers plan to get the
devices in the hands of 1,000 computer science students, and by next
year spread their use to hundreds of computer science departments.