Logic Thru Comics


Carnegie Mellon University Prof. Iliano Cervesato knew exactly what he was doing when he created a class centering on a comic book.

Students across campus jumped at the chance to sign-up — even though Discovering Logic was offered solely for first-year computer science majors.

It focused on "Logicomix" (Bloomsbury, 2009) — a graphic novel that tells the story of logic and the revolutionary history behind it.

"It's an interesting way to tell the story," said Cervesato, who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar.

He added, "Students get to learn about the historical context in which the mathematics and computer science they are studying came about."

"Logicomix" was not designed as a textbook for a university course. But when Cervesato found the bestseller, he knew it would be an innovative way to teach  the principles of the field.

It's a tactic being used by other professors at Carnegie Mellon, who are looking to graphic novels for teaching material.

"Graphic novels are very different forms," said English Professor Jane McCafferty, who co-taught a 2008 class on writing and illustrating graphic novels.

She explained, "People who are interested in a pared down writing and in the relationship between the verbal and the visual are naturally drawn to them."

Robert Hampshire, a professor in the Heinz College, uses that visual framework in his lectures on management science and service management concepts.

"When you break down the story of management science into terms people can understand, it's easier for students to grasp key concepts," said Hampshire.

Hampshire's presentations include even heroes, villains and 'Forces of Chaos.'

In addition to teaching the elementary logic of computer science, Cervesato felt 'Logicomix' could serve as the backbone of his course.

Sidra Alam (CS'13) took Cervesato's class to be better prepared for higher-level courses, like the cornerstone class 'Great Theoretical Ideas.'

"The book explained logic in a way that was easy to understand," said Alam. "I've even used what I learned in this course to build arguments on projects and do presentations in other courses."

He added, "I am so glad I took this course. It really opens up your thinking capabilities."

Related Links: Dept of Mathematical Sciences | School of Computer Science | Carnegie Mellon Qatar

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