NYU using Codeacademy to Teach CS: Who got fired?

October 11, 2012 at 8:56 am 8 comments

I predict that we’re going to see more of this: Universities using on-line services to teach computing classes. Discussions with my colleague, Beki Grinter, have given me a new perspective on thinking about the impact of MOOCs and other on-line services.

Here’s what I’m wondering: Who got fired? Was NYU teaching this class previously? What happened to the teacher who used to teach this course? How do the administrators at NYU know that it was unsuccessful? Why do they think that Codeacademy will work better?

How will they know “if all goes well” with the pilot program?  I wonder if the answer isn’t already determined. Once you’ve gone from a paid-course to a free-service, how can you possibly NOT decide that “it went well”?

A department at New York University is beginning to use a free online service to help teach computer-programming courses.

The department of media, culture, and communication in NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development recently announced a partnership with Codeacademy, a free site that started last year and has quickly gained a following in the computer-science field, to provide a 10-week programming course this semester.

Fifty undergraduates will participate in the pilot program, which includes a weekly class and monthly lectures from technology-industry leaders. If all goes well, the course may be incorporated into the department’s curriculum.

via New York U. Turns to Free Site to Help Teach Computer Programming – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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The Blue Collar Coder may be Stuck in the Shallow End How Computerized Tutors Are Learning to Teach Humans – NYTimes.com

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Doug Blank  |  October 11, 2012 at 9:18 am

    “NYU using Codeacademy to Teach CS”? It looks to me more like “NYU using Codeacademy to Teach Programming” (and, in fact, that is the term the article uses). On a related point, even the author mentions “programming languages like HTML”. It sounds like these courses are filling a void not covered by CS—that is fine, and I would argue will help the overall situation. After all, which is harder: writing a paragraph or writing a program? Programming! And which of those topics is required for all students, K-12, and college? English! No wonder there is a void… computing has a lot to do to catch up with writing.

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  October 11, 2012 at 9:21 am

      You may be right, Doug — the online class may be filling a gap that wasn’t covered by any existing classes. I don’t know. I’m raising a question about the general case. If a University uses an online resource to replace an existing course, how do they justify it (cost only, or a cost-and-quality argument), how do they evaluate the decision, and is it even possible to go back once you’ve piloted the no-cost replacement?

      Reply
      • 3. Doug Blank  |  October 11, 2012 at 10:09 am

        But even if someone got fired and it is replacing an existing course, that could be a good thing: it could be helping to raise the bar so that CS can focus on the S (science) rather than the P (programming). That can also be seen in the measure of “success” I think.

        Reply
        • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  October 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm

          Unless what they’re teaching in the first course is actually needed later on (e.g., learning some programming that will be used in the science). If the students really need to learn what’s going on in that course, it still raises my issues. How did they learn it before? How do you know that the on-line version is doing better (e.g., is leading to better learning of this content)? And even if it’s worse learning, can you really give up the free version once you tried it?

          I get the “That’s HTML/programming/coding, and that’s beneath us” argument. Fine, but that’s now and this instance. Udacity offers an intro to Python course. Shall we replace all the CS1’s in the US that use Python with students watching Dave’s course? The question of whether the content is worth of being CS or not misses the point.

          Reply
  • [...] NYU using Codeacademy to Teach CS: Who got fired? « Computing Education Blog. [...]

    Reply
    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  October 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm

      I got permission to share this email:

      Professor Guzdial,

      I read with great interest your post this morning about our pilot program with Codecademy; as the program’s initiator and its co-teacher, I thought I’d take the opportunity to answer some of your questions.

      First of all, and thankfully, no one was fired. NYU was not teaching this class previously. We’ve, of course, many computer science classes that cover similar topics, but ours was intended not for CS students but for our own students at the department of media, culture, and communication. The class, then, was designed as a media studies course that introduces our students to the broad outlines of computer programming, as well as offer them a series of lectures by scholars, executives, and engineers that will touch on anything from e-commerce and big data to net neutrality and video game ontology. The idea here is to provide our future graduates — many of whom will soon work in industries that are increasingly dependent on information technology — with a broad knowledge of the Internet’s machinations, a familiarity with key concepts shaping life and commerce online today, and a proficiency with the basic grammar of a few select programming languages. This is why the partnership with Codecademy appealed: We believe that by combining the traditional mode of in-class teaching with Codecademy’s innovative, interactive online tutorials we have the chance to explore a new pedagogical model that suits our students’ particular needs. It is, of course, much too early to ascertain whether or not the pilot is a success, but we are deeply gratified by the tremendous interest the class has generated among our students, and look forward to evaluating their progress and their feedback come December before deciding on how to proceed.

      I hope this helps, and welcome any other question you may have.

      Sincerely,

      Liel Leibovitz, Ph.D.
      Visiting Assistant Professor
      Department of Media, Culture, and Communication
      New York University

      Reply
  • 7. Peter Donaldson  |  October 31, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    When I hear people talking about programming or learning Python I often wonder why we still appear to let the perception of our field be learning how to use technology X or programming language Y instead of the underlying principles and ideas. I’m waiting for the day when books such as “Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future” and “The Computational Beauty of Nature: Computer Explorations of Fractals, Chaos, Complex Systems and Adaptation ” are more common in the Computing section of bookstores than “HTML 5 for Dummies” and “Java for the complete beginner”.

    Reply
  • [...] does an excellent job of describing the big trends in learning to code this last year, from CodeAcademy to Bret Victor and Khan Academy and MOOCs.  But the part that I liked the best was where she [...]

    Reply

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