Evolution of Software Development Education – Part V: Human and Social Aspects in Computing Curriculum

Posted on February 18, 2012


Author: Sanjay Goel, http://in.linkedin.com/in/sgoel

This is the fifth article in this 8 part series. The sixth part is Evolution of Software Development Education – Part VI: Consolidation phase of 80’s and 90’s


Till the 1970s, sociological, economic, and educational implications of developments in computer science were not considered as major responsibility of computer science. The curriculum reports recommended that computer science faculty should cooperate with concerned departments to develop courses in these areas, and computer science students should be encouraged to take these courses. However, computers were been increasing recognized as agents of social change. Professional bodies started paying more attention to understanding the social impact of computing.

In 1976, IFIP added a new technical committee, TC-9: Relationship between Computers and Society.  The ACM curriculum committee also responded to this trend, and included computers and society as a strongly recommended elective in Curriculum’78 [2]. It was also suggested that such a course should be taught by computer science faculty.  The committee recommended that meaningful computer applications should be cited and reviewed throughout the elementary material.  The committee posited that structured programming along with social, philosophical, and ethical considerations are of such importance to the development of computer scientists that they must permeate the instructions at elementary levels. In all subsequent recommendations of the ACM, IEEE, IFIP, and others this proposal was further strengthened and this course was often included in the core. Most of the subsequent recommendations provided a more central position to this area. IFIP [3] recommended computer and society as part of the core for six variants of computing programs. Computing curricula [4] specifies ‘2’ as the minimum weight of legal, professional, ethical, and social aspects on a scale of 0-5 for all their five forms of undergraduate computing discipline. However, some studies [5-7] showed that in spite of strong recommendations from professional bodies, this area received lesser than required attention during formal education in the opinion of responding practitioners.

The C3S published a survey of computer science education [8]. This report was a mere catalog of various reports and papers without any observations or conclusions. It badly failed to critically review the previous literature or propose future trends.  A year later the committee on computer science published their new recommendations, Curriclum’78. Mathematics requirements were mostly unchanged, and the report was criticized for being retrogressive in this aspect. The committee posited that structured programming along with social, philosophical, and ethical considerations are of such importance to the development of computer scientist that they must permeate the instructions at elementary levels. The core computer science and mathematics courses constituted less than 50% of course requirement. Additional course requirements were proposed to be fulfilled through electives and courses in humanities, sciences, engineering, and social sciences. General liberal arts requirements were expected to give breadth to the program.  The report was criticized for taking a fragmented approach [9].

In 1981, the C3S submitted its recommendations for master’s level program in computer science. It prescribed that the basic intention of master program is to develop students’ critical and professional thinking and intuition to enable the graduates to take sound professional decisions with awareness of ACM code of ethics. Development of written and oral communication skills, cognizance with pertinent literature in their field of choice, teamwork, and leadership skills were also included among the prescribed goals.  However, the committee did not make any specific recommendations to ensure that the curriculum meets the stated objectives. It recommended a list of  thirty masters level courses, and classified into following five categories: (i) programming languages (six courses), (ii) operating systems and computer architecture (seven courses,  including computer communication networks), (iii) theoretical computer science (four courses), (iv) data and file structures (four courses), and (v) other topics (nine courses). The C3S failed to use this opportunity to make a defining and novel contribution towards curriculum design through these reports of late 1970s and early 1980s. The curriculum committee’s reports of late 70s and early 80s have been later criticized for being reactive rather than proactive [10].

In the last few years, with the emergence of new specialization tracks of human computer interaction and also entertainment computing, sociology, art, philosophy, and psychology related courses have become even more important.  Some of the recent programs include many courses from these areas by replacing courses of natural science, management, and electronics [11]. Currently, out of thirteen technical committees of International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP), four committees directly relate to human aspect of computing: (1) Education (working since 1963), (2) Relationship between Computer and Society (established in 1976), (3) Human-Computer Interaction (working since 1989), and the most recent (4) Entertainment Computing (founded in 2002). These committees seek to promote use of models, theories, and methods of social science, human sciences, ethics, psychology, culture, education, and aesthetics in both design and evaluation of user orientated computer systems and humanization of system design process.

The AICTE model curricula for computing disciplines [12-13] have not taken cognizance of these developments and place the curricula only in the limited context of natural science, mathematics, physical aspects of engineering, and business. The important and pervasive context of human culture and society has not even been included in the agenda.



[2]   Richard H. Austing, Bruce H. Bernes, Della T. Bonnette, Gerald L. Engel, Gordon Stokes, Curriculum’78: Recommendations for the Undergraduate Program in Computer Science, Communications of the ACMpp 147-166, March 1979.

[3]   UNESCO-IFIP, A Model Curriculum in Computer Science, UNESCO, 1994.

[4] Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Association for Information Systems (AIS), and The Computer Society (IEEE-CS), Computing Curricula 2005, retrieved from http://www.acm.org/education/curric_vols/CC2005-March06Final.pdf, last accessed on February 28, 2010.

[5] Timothy C. Lethbridge, The relevance of software education: A survey and some recommendations, Annals of Software Engineering, Springer Netherlands, pp 91-110,  March, 1998.

[6] Timothy C. Lethbridge, A survey of the relevance of computer science and software engineering education, . Proceedings of 11th Conference on Software Engineering Education, IEEE, pp 56-66,  1998.

[7] Timothy C. Lethbridge, What knowledge is important to a software professional?, Computer, IEEE, pp 44-50, 2000.

[8]  Richard H. Austing, Bruce H. Bernes, and Gerald L. Engel, A Survey of  the Literature in Computer Science Education Since Curriculum’68, Communications of the ACM, pp 13-21, January, 1977.

[9] Anthony Ralston and Mary Shaw, Curriculum ’78 – Is Computer Science Really that Unmathematical?, Communications of the ACM, pp 67-70, February 1980.

[10]  Michael Goldweber, John Impagliazzo, Iouri A. Bogoiavlenski, A. G. Clear, Gordon Davies, Hans Flack, J. Paul Myers,  Richard Rasala, Historical perspectives on the computing curriculum (report of the ITiCSE ’97 working group on historical perspectives in computing education, Annual Joint Conference Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education, The supplemental proceedings of the conference on Integrating technology into computer science education: working group reports and supplemental proceedings, Uppsala, Sweden, ACM, pp 94-111, 1997.

[11] Mingrui Zhang, Eugene Lundak, Chi-Cheng Lin, Tim Gegg Harrison, Joan Francioni, Interdisciplinary Application Track in an Undergraduate Computer Science Curriculum, SIGCSE’07, ACM, pp 425-429, March 2007.

[12] All India Council for Technical Education, Model Curriculum for Undergraduate Programme B.E./ B. Tech. in COMPUTER SCIENCE & ENGINEERING, 2000, retrieved from  http://www.aicte.ernet.in/download/OnlineBooks/compsciandEngg.pdf.

[13] All India Council for Technical Education, Model Curriculum for Undergraduate Programme B.E./ B. Tech. in  INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY, 2000, retrieved from http://www.aicte.ernet.in/download/OnlineBooks/it.pdf.

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