How do we move forward in CS Ed and not just retrace the past?
Interesting essay from Neil Brown who decided to try to resurrect some of the best of CS Education research software from the past. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I have found that Logo code from the past doesn’t run as-is on modern Logo implementations. I was just talking to a colleague about how great it would be to be able to run Boxer and HyperCard again. (Yes, I have a license for Livecode, but it’s not the same interface as HyperCard.) Etoys still runs on everything, but it’s a rare exception. It’s important to make progress that we build on the past, and not simply re-invent it, forget it, or mis-remember it.
I did have one or two successes, such as getting a version of the GENIE editor running in an emulator. And it was a revelation that greatly pushed forward my understanding of old structured editors. By modern standards, they were awful. The papers’ descriptions didn’t make clear how tedious and fiddly the navigation was, how unhelpful the editor was, how awkward it was to deal with errors. Running the software was an absolutely crucial step to comparing our work to theirs. It allowed me to understand the design and critique the editor’s operation for myself, rather than relying on the authors’ incomplete descriptions of their own software.For all the other editors which I couldn’t run, there are these reviewers asking the perfectly valid question in research: “How does your work relate to previous work X?” And the honest answer is: I don’t know. Perhaps nobody can know any more — the paper wasn’t very detailed and the software is lost in time. This is no way to do research.