[Haskell-cafe] New slogan for haskell.org

Bernie Pope bjpop at csse.unimelb.edu.au
Mon Oct 8 22:28:17 EDT 2007

On 08/10/2007, at 8:54 PM, Thomas Conway wrote:

> I just had a conversation today that seems relevant to this thread. I
> was chatting with a friend who is working in the academic sector, and
> I was observing that Melbourne Uni (my old school), is switching in
> the new year from teaching Haskell as a first language, to teaching
> Python. I was dismayed, but not surprised.
> Anyway, I was talking about this with my friend said that he
> understood the main reason for the change was that students were not
> being "switched on" or excited learning Haskell as they used to be
> learning C. He put it down to the fact that in C, you are more
> obviously "making the computer do stuff", and that Haskell is
> sufficiently high level and abstract that beginner programmers don't
> get that thrill of feeling like you're making the computer work for
> you.
> I must say, I get that! but at the same time, of course, the high
> level abstraction is exactly what *we* love about Haskell.

Presently, at Melbourne Uni we teach Haskell as a second language  
after C.
In their first year, my class has two and a half semesters of C,  
followed by
half a semester of Haskell. There is a parallel stream, where the  
split between
C and Haskell is 50-50 (the so-called "advanced stream").

My general feeling is that students are responding well to Haskell,  
and it
is a welcome break from segfault-land. However, it is hard for them to
evaluate the merits of pure functional programming, when they've seen
so little of the alternatives. We get the occasional early convert, but
most of the students remain sceptical (and rightly so, I think).  
Also, first
year students spend all their time concentrating on "programming in
the small", which means that they don't see _as much_ benefit from the
kinds of abstraction that Haskell offers over C.

In my opinion, the move to Python is motivated by other concerns,  
which come
about because the undergraduate program is going through a radical
change across the whole university. There is a corresponding shift in  
first-year demographic, which motivates a change in the focus of
the first year program.

I'm not so concerned about losing Haskell in the first year  
(especially to Python).
Personally, I would like to see functional/declarative programming  
gain more
prominence later in the curriculum - at the point where students are  
at a
higher level of programming sophistication, and are more likely to  
the material.

I have spent a reasonable amount of time extolling the virtues of  
programming to first year students over the years. The one thing  
which seems
to get the best response, and makes them sit up and listen, is when I  
tell them
that GHC is maintained largely by people who work at MS research!


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