A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science, 2/E
Preface to A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science
Welcome to A Balanced Introduction to Computer Science.There are a number of reasons why you might be reading this text. Perhaps you have had limited experience with computers and would like to know more about how they work and how to control them. Or perhaps you recognize the marketability of programming and computer literacy, and would like to expand your skills for the future job market. Or perhaps you are just curious about the World Wide Web and want to know what all the hype is really about. In any case, you are embarking on what I hope will be an exciting, challenging, and rewarding experience.
Balancing Breadth and Depth
This text is different from most introductory computing texts in that it attempts to maintain a balance between computing breadth and programming depth.Traditionally, introductory texts have focused almost exclusively on one approach or the other. Breadth-based texts have emphasized a broad understanding of computers and computer science. By surveying a wide range of topics such as computer organization, graphics, networking, and technology in society, the intent is for students to experience the breadth of the field and develop a perspective to later understand and appreciate the role of technology in their lives. Alternatively, depth-based texts have focused more deeply on the role of programming in computing.The discipline of programming not only develops problem-solving skills, but also is central to many areas of computer science and thus important to appreciating their significance.
While each of these approaches has merit, there are potential weaknesses to either extreme.A breadth-based survey of computing can be too superficial, presenting a broad perspective to students who lack the context or experience to fully comprehend it. And while programming depth can provide experience with many computing concepts, developing proficiency as a programmer and problem-solver requires extensive hands-on experience (especially when learning a complex language such as C++ or Java), and may not be directly relevant to all students.
There are three main goals to this text and its accompanying resources. First, it serves to expose the student to the breadth that is the field of computer science. Computer science is more than just the xv study of computers–it focuses on all facets of computation, from the design and analysis of algorithms (step-by-step sequences of instructions for carrying out tasks), to the engineering and manufacture of computer components, to the development of software systems.Through readings and the use of online resources, the student will study topics such as the history of computer technology, the underlying architecture of modern computers, the translation and execution sequence of programs, and the capabilities and limitations of computation. Using software simulators, the student will build virtual components of a computer and watch the flow of information as a program is translated and executed on the low-level machinery. Through this combination of reading and experimentation, hopefully these concepts will come alive for the student and provide a sense of what computer science is all about.
The second main goal of this text is to teach the student the fundamentals of programming. Programming is the process of solving problems on the computer, that is, devising solutions to specific tasks and formalizing those solutions in a language the computer can understand and execute. Programming is the central activity in computer science, providing an inroad to many of the interesting facets and challenges of the field. In learning to program, the student will be learning to analyze problems, think logically, formalize his or her thoughts, and solve problems. It is a discipline, since a systematic approach must be learned, but it is also a creative process, since novel approaches must be found to attack new problems. And since many of the skills developed in programming apply to problem solving in general, experience gained through this text should carry over to other disciplines as well. Finally, the fact that programs are written in the context of interactive Web pages highlights the relevance of programming to applications students use everyday.
The third main goal of this text is to demonstrate the scientific and interdisciplinary nature of computing. Research in various fields of study, most notably the mathematical and natural sciences, is becoming increasingly dependent on computers and programming. By studying and investigating applications in fields such as biology, physics, psychology, and even economics, the student will learn to apply his or her programming skills to a wide range of problems. In addition, the student will develop empirical skills that are common to all scientific endeavors.
The balanced approach to computer science and programming taken by this text is evident in the layout of its chapters. There are two types of chapters in the text, those that use narrative to introduce key concepts of computing (i.e., the computer science breadth chapters: 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18) and those that use a tutorial style to develop problem-solving and programming skills (i.e., the programming depth chapters: 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, and 17).The interleaving of these chapters is both intentional and important. It provides variety in the types of activities students will undertake, and thus may be more accommodating to students with different learning styles. Readings and classroom discussions serve as buffers between programming tutorials, allowing the student more time to assimilate programming concepts and skills before beginning the next tutorial. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the interleaving of chapters supports the student’s understanding and appreciation of the content. For example, after developing their own home pages in Chapter 2, students are better prepared to understand what the Web is and how it works in Chapter 3.
Features of the computer science breadth chapters:
Features of the programming depth chapters:
Changes in the 2nd Edition
The second edition of this book follows the same structure as the first edition, but with notable updates and additions.
Advice for the Student
This text does not assume any previous experience with computer applications or programming. Certainly, familiarity with computers is a plus (e.g., word processing or email), but is not necessary. Basic computer terminology will be covered in the text as needed, and appendices are provided to assist the novice with simple computer skills, such as using a text editor, saving files to a disk, and browsing the Web. The goal is not to teach you everything you could ever want to know about computers and programming, but instead to provide you with a working set of skills and knowledge.Whenever possible, links to further readings will be provided in case you are interested in a topic and would like to learn more.
Whether you choose to continue studies in computer science, or merely wish to apply computing skills to your everyday life, the balanced coverage of computing topics as found in this text should prove valuable to you.
Advice for the Instructor
The layout of the chapters in this text is designed to provide maximum flexibility for the instructor. Depending on the preferences of the instructor and the goals of the particular course, the right balance and order of the material can be determined for your needs. If you are teaching a traditional non-major course, then a roughly even balance between breadth and depth probably makes sense. If the students are computer knowledgeable and taking this course as part of a computer science sequence, then some breadth topics may be skipped or shortened to allow for greater programming depth.
This text has been used in both non-majors' (CS0) courses and introductory majors' courses (CS1) at a variety of institutions. Sample syllabi that demonstrate possible course organizations are available online as supplements.
One of the strengths of this book is the flexibility that it provides the instructor. An instructor might choose to emphasize the breadth chapters, while only covering the first few programming chapters, or emphasize the programming chapters while selecting a few breadth chapters of interest, or perhaps find a balance in between. The interleaving of breadth and depth chapters throughout the text is specifically designed to support the content and also vary the types of learning activities students engage in. While the relative order in which the programming depth chapters are covered is constrained by their content, it is certainly possible to omit or move some of the computer science breadth chapters. For example, some instructors might prefer covering the history of computers (Chapter 6) earlier in the course, or perhaps covering the chapters on how computers work (Chapter 14) and are built (Chapter 16) together.
This book is the culmination of a long process of thinking, experimenting, implementing, classroom testing, rethinking, reexperimenting, and so on.There are numerous people who have contributed to this book during its development, both tangibly and with moral support.The people at Prentice Hall have been outstanding, including editors Petra Recter, Kate Hargett, and Tracy Dunkelberger; and production editors Irwin Zucker and Vishal Harshvardhan. I’m eternally grateful to developmental editor Lauren Trees, who helped shape my words and focus my vision – this is certainly a much better book thanks to her contribution. I would also like to thank the following outside reviewers, whose insightful comments were a great help:
Debra Burhans, Canisius College
The concepts behind this book were initially formed while I was at Dickinson College. Numerous colleagues at Dickinson taught early versions of the material and contributed new ideas, especially Grant Braught and Craig Miller. In addition to those early colleagues, I would like to thank colleagues at Creighton University, who have also been supportive of the course and its material, especially Brian Kokensparger. As a general inspiration and source for great ideas, I gratefully acknowledge my good friend Owen Astrachan, who served as my early role model in teaching as well as embarrassing me in public on numerous occasions.
On a personal note, I would like to thank my parents who raised me to value knowledge and learning, and supported me in my studies. My wife Laura has probably suffered the most during the development of this book–losing me to many late nights of work and having to listen to endless stories about what did and didn't work in class. Her willingness to listen, provide keen insights, and pick up the slack for me at home has made this book possible. Finally, special thanks go to our boys, Charlie and Jack, for their love and patience. Maybe daddy will get some sleep now that the book is done, and he'll be a little perkier in the mornings.