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Educators are now teaching high-level coding skills over syntax due to generative AI

AI written onto a computer chip

According to IEEE, university professors are changing the way they teach students how to code. The emphasis is reportedly being moved away from syntax and more to higher-level skills such as testing and debugging code so that AI-generated code can be validated as being correct.

Aside from testing and debugging code, lecturers are also focusing more on problem decomposition where you break a big problem into smaller problems which an LLM may be able to solve more easily. Discussing this, Leo Porter, an associate teaching professor of computer science at the University of California, San Diego, said:

“This is a skill to know early on because you need to break a large problem into smaller pieces that an LLM can solve. It’s hard to find where in the curriculum that’s taught—maybe in an algorithms or software engineering class, but those are advanced classes. Now, it becomes a priority in introductory classes.”

While AI can certainly help with coding, professors are still warning students to be cautious about its use as it can hallucinate and also infringe on copyrights. They’re also warning that AI should only be used as a copilot, not an autopilot.

As generative AI Is quite new, many professors are only just adapting their courses. The forms these courses are currently taking are not likely to be the final result as they need to see how well they work in practice.

Another issue that teachers will have to think about is how well the shift away from syntax actually helps people when they get into work. Many companies restrict the use of generative AI because they’re working on secret code that they don’t want leaking out via AI. If students don’t learn as much syntax, they could find themselves struggling out in the real world.

Nevertheless, generative AI is having some beneficial impacts. One educator who spoke to IEEE said they used to ask students to write code and then grade them based on whether they passed some pre-written tests. The educator has now realised that this mode of teaching is too restrictive and has broadened their teaching method, which is definitely a positive.

Source: IEEE Spectrum | Image via Depositphotos.com

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