Pursuing universal computing literacy: Mozilla-as-Teacher, Everyone-as-Coder
Here’s another take on the “Computing for Everyone” theme that is near and dear to me. I’ve been exploring this idea in my talks and papers, here in the blog, and all starting from our Media Computation work. This theme starts from a different question than CS: Principles, which is asking what should everyone learn about computing. The Mozilla-as-teacher post is suggesting why everyone should learn “coding” (here, including HTML coding, vs. programming): to make the Web better.
It’s a reasonable answer, in the sense that universal literacy makes the world of letters better. But how does it make it better? For me, I’m still attracted to the innovation argument: we use code as a medium to say, share, and test ideas that we can’t in other media. That communication, sharing, and debugging of ideas leads to more and better ideas, which results in innovation — new ideas, new extensions of those ideas, new implementations of those ideas. That’s why it’s important to strive towards near-universal computing literacy, at least with respect to knowledge workers, which is why it’s important to require computing in college.
There are other arguments, too. Another powerful reason for universal computing literacy is that it’s about knowing the world we live in. Why do we teach students the periodic table and the difference between meiosis and mitosis? It’s mostly not because of job skills. It’s because people live in a world where chemistry and biology matter. Today, we all live in a world where computing matters. Knowing about the inherent limitations of digital representations is more important to most people’s daily lives than knowing about meiosis and mitosis.
Now, if you buy all that: How do we get there?
This has been the premise behind much of what we have done with Mozilla Drumbeat: people who make stuff on the internet are better creators and better online citizens if they know at least a little bit about the web’s basic building blocks. Even if they only learn a little HTML, the web gets better.