Archive for March 8, 2011

Closing of the CS Ed Mind

Raymond Lister has a provocative take in the current “ACM Inroads” magazine.

Perhaps not surprising, I don’t agree.  In my experience, his (below) aren’t the two assumptions behind most people’s enthusiasm for any of those approaches, but I have no empirical data to cite.  Engagement (a factor in “fun”) is a requirement for learning, and syntax is an issue, but not the dominant one.  The advantage of a visual, direct-manipulation interface is to reduce the impact of syntax issues.  I’m not uncritically accepting the use of computation to model and understand learning — I’ve considered it critically and found it valuable. Of course, the cultural and social play a role. It’s not all psychology.

I am concerned about the growing uncritical reception of tools such as Scratch, Alice and Media Computation. Let there be no misunderstanding− I have no problem with the tools themselves, and the people who have developed them. My concern is with the uncritical “plug and pedagogue”attitude of much the audience…I believe that part of the enthusiasm is due to two assumptions: (1) if students are having fun then they will learn automatically, and (2) syntax is the dominant problem in learning to program … are these assumptions really self-evidently true?

A closed way of thinking leads many computer scientists to uncritically accept a computational metaphor for students and teachers. That approach was most purely expressed in the work of Elliot Solowayand his students (e.g. Spohrer, 1992). The problem is not with that work itself, but with the uncritical notion that it is a self evident truth. A computational metaphor trivializes the embodied, the social and the cultural aspects of learning, which is the strength of Bloom’s stereotypical “European” philosophy. To borrow from Dreyfus(1992), I fear any pedagogy that models students as learning machines.

via “The Closing of the CS Ed Mind

March 8, 2011 at 10:17 pm 1 comment

The advantage of computing goes to those who create, not those who use

Interesting piece by Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.  Read all the way to the bottom where he points out that just giving workers degrees won’t restore middle class society.  Krugman’s argument makes sense, but he makes the same mistake that most education administrators make.  The real advantage to the individual of computing is not in using computers.  That doesn’t require any particular education, as Krugman points out.

Krugman misses that the economic advantage goes to those who know how to create with computing. Those who can program (which does require education) have (a) an advantage which enables innovation and (b) the ability to marshal the resources of what used to take many human laborers, thus increasing productivity.

Why is this happening? The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information — loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands.

Some years ago, however, the economists David Autor, Frank Levy and Richard Murnane argued that this was the wrong way to think about it. Computers, they pointed out, excel at routine tasks, “cognitive and manual tasks that can be accomplished by following explicit rules.” Therefore, any routine task — a category that includes many white-collar, nonmanual jobs — is in the firing line. Conversely, jobs that can’t be carried out by following explicit rules — a category that includes many kinds of manual labor, from truck drivers to janitors — will tend to grow even in the face of technological progress.

via Degrees and Dollars – NYTimes.com.

March 8, 2011 at 9:41 am 5 comments


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