Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

How to rejuvenate IT Studies

IT Studies or in some quarters, Computing Studies. Mark Guzdial has recently conributed two posts to his views about "Software Engineering and the Cause of the CS Enrollment Crisis"
  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
Mark's posts are to do with tertiary level education.

Part 1
Mark's diagnosis
It seems to me that the cause of the student's disdain for "programming" and for the decline in CS enrollment lies there. As civil engineers need armies of construction workers to build their designs, and as mechanical engineers use armies of factory workers to produce their designs, so do software engineers use armies of programmers or coders, people who are explicitly not software engineers, to produce their designs. Few students go to college to become construction or factory workers. Why should it be surprising, then, that few Western students want to go to college to be the Information Age equivalent workers?
Boring and mundane - lack of creativity.
Computer scientists do not need to write good, clean code. Science is about critical and creative thinking
No fun
Our students want to be creative, not mundane. Many want to push hardware to do things that no one has ever thought about. Many want to explore new forms of expression. That is what computer science is about. That is not necessarily what software engineers need.

Part 2

Realizing one's designs is motivating.

He argues that we take care with the language that we use to teach programming. Use C based languages is a no go. Translating this to secondary school. Programming needs to be fun and encourage creativity.

I run a course called 'Negotiated Computing'. Students come to this class wanting to learn something about computers. For many that's as detailed as it gets but for others they want to learn HTML, Javascript, PHP, ..........

Students negotiate their learning contract and away we go.

The interesting thing is that I have a range of 'traditional' tutorials for these sorts of things and they are not particularly popular except for lesson 1. For example, in lesson 1 of PHP, students get a login to the LiveLAMP server, find out about the ftp settings and that's about the last I see of them in that course.

They are downloading code that others have made, uploading it to the server and trying to get it to work. This is particularly challenging for me as there is inevitably things that don't work and so we are looking at line 45 wondering why? It is hard because I am looked on as the expert and I should know the answer. I guess I get to model how I solve problems, offer an hypothesis and try out some solutions. Sometimes we win quickly, sometimes it takes longer and at other times we don't win at all and have to move on. We end up with chat, picture galleries and all sorts of things. They love to then get others to use the thing that they have got to work and then we see some modifications being made.

I guess I did the same thing 25-30 years ago. I used books with code, copied these and tried to get them to work. It took some time before I felt OK about trying to create something original.

This approach does not fit in with the formal senior secondary Information Technology syllabus. It does fit very nicely with Community Studies.

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