Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hour of Code - I don't get it...

December 9th starts the big Computer Science Education Week and "Hour of Code," and while I'm not against learning to code per say, I find it ironic, and unnecessary, there is such a push within education for all students to code.

When I tell people I disagree with the notion that all students should learn to code, I generally get confused looks in return. My background is in tech. I worked for Ziff Davis Publishing in the late 90s producing streaming media content in the early days of online video. Back then the big player on the web was the Progressive Networks player, which became Real Player. Who here still has Real installed on their systems...?

No one? Hmmm....

Not exactly my point, but making it's way there...

With my background and the fact I've built servers in my school, manage our Google Apps for Education platform, and spend tons of time customizing our OS versions and living in iOS, people automatically assume I'm a coder who loves to code and would agree that everyone should code.

I'm not. I don't. And I'm not alone, not at all...

I was a Film & Television major at Boston University. I got the streaming job at PC Week magazine not because I knew anything about the technology of encoding audio or video, or because I was a journalism major, but because I knew how to edit audio and video. We were a small operation within a larger organization. We were experimental, had few resources, and were testing out this new fangled idea of putting audio and video on websites. I edited, encoded, and uploaded the content. But I didn't build the encoder. I didn't build the webpage. The guys writing the code to compress the audio and video didn't know how to edit audio and video but they sure knew how to get it to play online (for those of you who might not remember, this was in the day of 2400 bits per second dial-up internet service). We had a T1 line in our office which, at the time, was probably thousands of dollars a month. We would produce content from trade shows and rent an ISDN line for hundreds of dollars a week. It was the early days, far removed from where we are today.

So here's my point...

We were pushing the boundaries and putting pre-recorded and live audio and video on the Internet. Intense stuff. But the guys building the software had no interest in creating the content. Our journalists loved doing the interviews and getting the quotes but had no interest editing the pieces. I loved the audio and video editing but had no desire to do the interviews. And besides, we were all good at what we did, with vastly different skills all required together to create the best final product. Three elements: one involved coding, two didn't. Together we did great things, and nothing suffered by not having all three of us code...

When I hear people say things like "all kids should learn to code" I end up thinking a few things:
  • China is becoming a major economic superpower, why not say all kids should learn Chinese to compete on the global marketplace?

  • Or any foreign language for that matter?

  • Some universities count math as foreign language, maybe coding should be the domain of the language department, not the computer department

  • Or the math department

  • Or art and design - good coding is elegant and creates things to admire

  • If it takes only an hour to learn to code, why are people bothering to go to college for computer science degrees? </sarcasm>

  • If we, as educators, are saying everyone should code, and it only takes an hour and some online courses to get started, aren't we undermining all the work professional coders put in to their craft?

  • If someone started a "Teaching Education Week" touting an "Hour of Curriculum" where middle school students could learn to teach in a hour, wouldn't teachers be up in arms over the "lack or appreciation for what we do" and for "not being treated like professionals for saying anyone can teach?"
I have no problem with coding. I've used Flash and Dreamweaver, which at the time required a fair amount of understanding code, if not actually writing code. I can vaguely understand HTML even if I can't create it from scratch. I don't "know" how to code and I don't think that dramatically impacts my job.
  • If a student wants to be a teacher will learning to code help their job?

  • If a student wants to be a architect/doctor/nurse/lawyer/etc, will knowing how to code help them?

  • If a student wants to enter politics, will coding help them become Mayor?
And if we are teaching code, what are we not teaching during that time? In an era where the battle cry among educators is often along the lines of "the job is wearing me down, we don't have the time for real instruction/curriculum/paperwork/insert complaint here," how then are we supposed to put meaningful time into something completely new?

I think that's key, meaningful. Sure, we can teach code. Or curriculum. Or law. But can it be truly meaningful in an hour?

And I suppose my final point is this: If the "point" is to say everyone should code and it only takes an hour to light the spark and generate the interest, would we be behind this movement if we replaced "code" with "non fiction writing" or "poetry" or "foreign language?"

The irony I spoke of at the start? Why is it we, as educators, always say learning takes time, repetition, practice, and, most importantly, passion but we feel we can meaningfully teach code in an hour during a sponsored week...?

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