Archive for August 5, 2019

Let’s think more broadly about computing education research: Questions about alternative futures

At the Dagstuhl Seminar in July, we spent the last morning going broad.  We posed three questions for the participants.

Imagine that Gates funds a CS teacher in every secondary school in the world, but requires all new languages to be taught (not Java, not Python, not R, not even Racket). “They’re all cultural colonialism! We have to start over!” Says Bill. We have five years to get ready for this. What should we do?

Imagine that Oracle has been found guilty of some heinous crime, that they stole some critical part of the JVM, whatever. The company goes bankrupt, and installation of Java on publicly-owned computers is outlawed in most countries. How do we recover CS Ed?

Five years from now, we’ll discover that Google has secretly been moving all of their infrastructure to Racket, Microsoft to Scala, and Amazon to Haskell (or swap those around). The CS Ed world is shocked — they have been preparing students for the wrong languages for these plum jobs! What do we do now? How do you redesign undergrad ed when it’s not about C++/#/Java/Python?

We got some pushback.  “That’s ridiculous. That’s not at all possible.” (I found amusing the description of we organizers as “Willy Wonka.”) Or, “Our goal should be to produce good programmers for industry — PERIOD!”

Those are reasonable positions, but they should be explicitly selected positions. The point of these questions is to consider our preconceptions, values, and goals. All computing education researchers (strike that: all researchers) should be thinking about alternative futures. What are we trying to change and why? In the end, our goal is to have impact. We have to think about what we are trying to preserve (and it’s okay for “producing industry programmers” to be a preserved goal) and what we are trying to change.

August 5, 2019 at 7:00 am 13 comments

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