Archive for September 20, 2009

Searching for a new driver for CS Education

The last couple of posts in this blog have generated some wonderful response posts.

  • Alfred Thompson wrote a post about what leads to change in computing education. He makes some intriguing predictions about the future of computing education at the end of his post. (The tie to databases got me thinking.)  He agrees with me that, historically, the innovations which have taken root have grown from well-known institutions.  What I found most interesting was the back-and-forth Alfred sees (from his current post at Microsoft) between industry and academic influences on the tools of choice.
  • Leigh Ann Sudol wrote a response to Alfred which reflected her frustration with the where the influences are coming from. I strongly agree with her greater goal: “We need to stop arguing about language, tools, etc. and decide what it means for the AVERAGE American to be literate in computing.” She concludes with the economic concerns she sees which limit computer science in secondary education.
  • Ian Bogost’s post is in line with Leigh Ann’s, in that he decries the influences on computing education, but he goes further to see it as indicative of an illness within computer science overall. “[O]verall, computing simply doesn’t care about the development of its ideas. It fantasizes itself as a scientific or an engineering discipline, but throws the baby out with the bathwater (even the purest of sciences acknowledges that its ideas arise from the complex flows of history).”  Ian wants computing educators to engage in learning methods that recognize computing as a liberal art (an argument I agree with, and have also made, though not nearly as eloquently).

All three of these posts are, in a sense, complaining about what is driving computing education.  I wrote my original post as a reflection on what has driven change in the past — purely an historical analysis.  The response we’re reading here is, “But that’s not what should drive change in how and what we teach.” Are these influences unique to computer science?  Leigh Ann and Ian call on Biology and Mathematics, respectively, as offering alternative models.  Computing may be more driven by industry than some other fields, but I suspect that these drivers are broader than just computer science.

How do we change what influences our practice?  I’m a fan of Larry Cuban’s work, particularly, “How Scholars Trumped Teachers.”  Cuban analyzes the last 100 years of American Universities and concludes that research wins over teaching.  American universities are set-up so that research and all that goes with it (e.g., focus on funding, publication, and creation of intellectual property) will always dominate attention to education.  Change is possible, but we may have to change our underlying assumptions about what the American University is and what it means, and then change the structure to match the new beliefs.

September 20, 2009 at 7:35 pm 5 comments


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