We need to better justify CS for All

April 1, 2016 at 7:53 am 5 comments

Brian Drayton has now written a couple of posts critical of the CS for All initiative (one is linked below, and here’s another one), and his points are well taken.  In my book on Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education, I consider several possible reasons for teaching CS to everyone.  I prefer the same ones that he does, and I agree that much of the initiative is poorly justified. I do not believe that we should put CS into all schools in order to make high school graduates “job-ready” (see the White House release using that phrase).

I agree that “everyone should code” is both unrealistic and poorly justified, as it has currently been advocated. I think we could make more progress (both in expanding people’s understanding of computer science or computation, and in empowering people to adopt such knowledge as a valuable tool for growth, creativity, and employment) if we did a better job envisioning what we’d like a classroom to look like that is deeply conversant with the tools and the insights of computer science in the same way that the classroom is already deeply infused with the tools and insights of literacy and numeracy.

Source: Topic: “Computing for all #2: Can we get off the pendulum?” – Topic Posts

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , .

Starting to track CS classes in Georgia: Few all-CS teachers Liberal arts colleges explore interdisciplinary pathways with CS: Great to see!

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  April 1, 2016 at 8:46 am

    If we retreat back to “reading and writing English for all”, we find some of the same problems and concerns, but also much better reasons for trying to accomplish this on a national basis.

    And we also find some of the lesser reasons also pushed to the fore — e.g. “better prep for future jobs”.

    Virtually everything about “RAWEFA” requires *transfer* at various levels in order for it to be a reasonable goal. The hope is that the learners will get fluent enough to be able to read and understand *other* books, etc. And, especially, that the actual skill acquired is reading and writing for learning and understanding” not just being able to read a label in a grocery store or while driving, or to simply transcribe oral speech in messages and tweets.

    An anecdote that needs to be tested nationwide: In all the times I was given a writing assignment in K-12, it was *never* the case that the teacher would also write something along with the class. This was completely different with my experience with music and sports, and (at Brooklyn Technical High School) my experience with engineering, math, science, etc (there the teachers really did the stuff alongside the students — but still not for writing).

    My conclusion was that these teachers didn’t like to write, and most certainly did not like to write about ideas and to help think about ideas and to communicate about ideas. My generalization is that this is true for almost all of them.

    (When I teach, I get the class to write one or two little essays a week, and I have them pick a topic for me to write on — I want them to see this as a collaborative process that “people of ideas” do.)

    There are indications that “RAWEFA” has failed its main reasons for being taught. For example, the NAEP shows that only 31% of *graduates of four year colleges* are considered “proficient” in reading.

    The main reason I don’t like the “CSFA” fad is there isn’t enough “there there” wrt the real needs of public education — civics and adulthood — and of the public itself — learning to be citizens as part of becoming adults. Nor is there enough “there there” for Computing itself. Nor is it well set up even for the weaker reasons of “job prep”.

    We can justly also say thiese three things about regular “math” (which mostly isn’t) and of regular “science” (ditto).

    On the other hand, it’s interesting and important to note and understand that “school generally helps” despite how badly it is generally done with respect to the actual subject matter.

    There are so many things that need to be done, and most of them are difficult to formulate and even more difficult to deploy.

    But, it should be at least possible to come up with a picture (realistic) of what things could and should be like 30 years from now — “really good” ways to think about and relate 21st century ideas in K-12 — and this could help thinking about 10 year goals, and these could help to think about what to try to do over the next 2-3 years.

    This is a good way to get a better vantage point on possible futures than trying to think inside a noisy present and dismal past.

  • 2. Raul Miller  |  April 1, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Ahh… frustrating. I am not a member of MSP, so cannot respond there.

    That said, an argument raised in the comments there “To add to his list of concerns is the fact that use or enjoyment of computers (or cars, or music) does not depend on knowing the mechanics.” bothers me.

    It’s true that a person can enjoy riding in a car without understanding the mechanics. On the other hand, you need at least a somewhat visceral sense of them to drive the thing.

    But a deeper issue is that our auto industry — Detroit, basically — has collapsed in the face of foreign competition. Let’s say we want the same thing to happen to our computer industry, what happens then?

    Up to now, we have relied more heavily on salesmanship than on scholarship, but that only gets us so far, and is not actually all that good of a long-term argument for our educational system.

    Anyways, I would take a really good look at the rest of the world – the good and the bad – before casually dismissing the idea of computer literacy. Does the idea have problems? Yes, it does – right now we’ve got a tower of babel, and we have to expect that it’s going to collapse. But what do we do then?

    And, yeah, we could probably also use some basic mechanics instruction, also at the elementary school level. Not so much because we should expect all students to be fixing cars, but because that knowledge helps understand what is and is not possible – how practical things work.

    The alternative – if we don’t fix the glibness of our students – is a growing government bureaucracy populated by far too many people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about.

    Right now, our schools churn out far too many people who have a glib understanding of what they were supposedly “taught”, and this has had horrible consequences for the stability of our economy. Even our healthcare system – despite claims of many about how our doctors are somehow the “best” – has been quite mediocre (and this becomes quite obvious if you look at national life expectancy numbers). And that represents, among other things, a failure of our educational system (but, also, a failure of our system of authority and of our choices of how to apply our freedoms and our rights).

    But, ok, yeah – perhaps we could instead become the world’s supply of couch potatoes? Because that’s where we’re heading right now.

    Anyways… the proposal as it currently stands *is* somewhat glib, which, if left alone, is a recipe for a miserable outcome. But that should be taken as cause for action, not dismissal:

    “Ask not what the country can do for you, but what you can do for the country.” That’s the kind of thinking that gets us past these kinds of problems…

  • 3. gflint  |  April 1, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    I am not a fan of CS for all. But I am a big fan of being able to offer CS for all. Every school should be able to offer kids the chance to take CS classes. That is what I see this initiative being based on. Right now it is not there and, due to teacher shortages, frozen curriculum, fifty year old mind sets, etc., probably not going to happen for another 10 years.

  • 4. Raul Miller  |  April 3, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    After some thought, and being more than a little dissatisfied with my above comment, I’ve put together a draft describing where I think this is heading:


    I should probably apologize for the cross-link, and also hope that anti-spam measures do not eat it.

    And, this has some obvious problems, but I think it contains a step in the right direction.

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  April 4, 2016 at 9:07 am

      Thanks for sharing, Raul. Our work (in particular, Lijun Ni’s dissertation work) suggests that it’s not possible for teachers to become “instruction experts” without having significant content expertise. Part of the problem is that the teachers lack confidence in their ability to teach content without knowing it. Barbara Ericson found that teachers are unwilling to try out novel teaching techniques until they know the content well, and will rely on techniques like worksheets when they are unsure of their content knowledge. Finally, How People Learn (see chapter here) points out that pedagogical content knowledge varies by discipline, and teachers need content knowledge to develop pedagogical content knowledge.


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