New science course teaches how computers aid science

By Meagan Ramsay

Do you ever wonder when using computers what they actually do? A new course offered to students next semester explains exactly that.

“The idea is scientists tend to use a lot of software, and they have no idea what it’s doing. So we need to explain how the computer is helping them do science,” said Dr. Bareiss, professor of computer science. “Not necessarily teaching them how to use a computer, but when they use a computer, what it is doing.”

For example, why do mathematical errors occur with data in Excel? Those are the types of processes with computers Dr. Bareiss said will be addressed.

“Computing Foundations For the Scientist” will be taught by Dr. Vail, chair of the computer science department. It is offered spring 2012  at 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, primarily for freshmen and sophomore science and math majors. Students need to have taken at least one lab science and it is preferred they have taken calculus.

Being an upper division course, Bareiss cautions that students not in a science-related major should only enroll if they really love science.

Geology, chemistry, biology, engineering and math professors created modules for the course. Bareiss said there are 10 science modules from the different disciplines of science and four computer science modules.

The National Science Foundation gave Olivet a grant to develop “Computing Foundations For the Scientist.”

“It’s really not being taught anywhere else that we could find in the United States,” Bareiss said.

The most important aspect of the class will be to explain what happens when we use computers so students can be aware of where they go wrong and where they do not go wrong.

“A lot of us don’t know that,” said Dr. Willa Harper, a chemistry professor who created chemistry modules for the course. “We just know how to use software.”

The ultimate goal might be that the biology professors, for example, take the biology modules and computer science modules and integrate them into their biology classes so it does not have to be a stand alone class. It can be integrated into different areas.

“And if this goes really well, we can go off and talk about computer foundations for the artists and musicians and computing foundations for the medical field,” Bareiss said. “It’s a possibility where computer literacy could go.”

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