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Connecting Technology and the Humanities

Posted by Matt Semansky on November 24, 2016 in News, Students
CS Prof Rob Bieko (back, standing) works with students on an assignment. (Nick Pearce photo)
CS Prof Rob Bieko (back, standing) works with students on an assignment. (Nick Pearce photo)

Originally posted in Dal News.

Computer science and the humanities might seem to exist on opposite ends of the academic spectrum, disciplines that appeal to fundamentally different people with fundamentally different skills and interests.

However, Dal three faculties are working together to make sure these different worlds collide and, in doing so, empower more students to graduate with a toolbox that includes a working knowledge of technology.

The Certificate in Computing in Arts and Social Sciences (CASS) is the joint product of the Faculty of Computer Science, the Faculty of Management and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. The goal: to give students in non-Computer Science programs a baseline understanding of modern technology.

“People in the arts and social sciences have a unique way of looking at things, but if they do not have technology sophistication, they’re missing an important string in their bow,” says Christian Blouin, associate dean, academic in the Faculty of Computer Science. “The certificate was created with the lens that it would be valuable to enhance arts and social sciences education without the need to become a computer scientist.”

Opening up possibilities


Dr. Blouin says obtaining a CASS is relatively simple. Over the course of their degree, students must complete three courses: Introduction to Computing for Non-Majors (CSCI 1200); Introduction to Website Creation (INFX 1606); and Social, Ethical and Professional Issues in Computer Science (PHIL 2490). They then choose one additional elective from a list of related courses.

According to Dr. Blouin, the idea is to familiarize more students with technology without asking for the level of commitment required by a minor in Computer Science.

“There’s no need to commit your life to computer science to acquire what I would call a 21st-century level of familiarity with technology,” says Dr. Blouin. “We put together a small packages of courses so that students can get skills that can be added to their CVs. It opens up possibilities in the workplace and for freelance work.

“It never gets really deep technically. The courses have no prerequisites and are making no assumptions as far as math — a good dose of raw enthusiasm is really the required prerequisite.”

Shannon Brownlee, an assistant professor in the Film Studies program at the Fountain School of Performing Arts, is auditing one of the first-year Informatics courses that is part of the CASS. Like many of the Arts and Social Sciences students to whom the certificate is geared, she has little in the way of computing experience.

“I’d done a little bit of HTML before, but that’s about it,” says Dr. Brownlee. “I’m still coming in pretty much at the ground level and I’m learning a lot.”

Problem solving across a career

Dr. Brownlee says regardless of where a student’s primary passions lie, technological skills are of critical importance.

“None of us is detached from these technologies. We all use them daily,” she says. “So getting exposed to a wide range of things and seeing what you might be interested in pursuing is really useful to anyone who lives in the contemporary world.

“For somebody who is focused on an arts career, having computer skills is a no-brainer. The introduction to the computer science discipline is going to give you so much more ability to problem-solve in your career, to do independent research and find out answers to questions like what software packages your work should be buying.”

And if a dash of computer science can add value to an education in the humanities, Dr. Blouin believes the reverse is also true.

“There’s a creative and artistic flavour to computer science that we’ve been closeting for a long time,” he says. “I think we need to bring more arts to computer science.”

Learn more about the Certificate in Computing in Arts and Social Sciences.