Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

October, 2005

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Visual Basic 2005 Frequently Asked Questions

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    I regularly get questions from teachers about Visual Studio and Visual Basic. This is my frequently asked questions list. Feel free to send me more questions about using Visual Basic in the classroom either by leaving a comment or by sending email to me at Alfred.Thompson at Microsoft.com

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET?

    Why should I choose to teach using Visual Basic .NET?

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic .NET 2002/2003 to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    When will support for Visual Basic 6.0 end?

    How much does it cost for a high school to upgrade to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    What are the configuration requirements for Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET?

    • The ability to teach true Object Oriented Programming with a beginner friendly syntax (i.e. think better preparation for students later learning AP CS)
    • Use of the .NET Framework libraries – lots of things that used to be hard to do are now much easier. For example, sorting and searching arrays, playing sounds and getting system information can all be done without complicated system calls or writing a lot of code.
    • A more helpful and productive IDE – IntelliSense, the error messages, especially in VS 2005, are much better than in VB 6.0
    • Opportunities to use the same IDE for other languages (C++, C#, J#)
    • Lots of new teaching and learning resources (http://msdn.microsoft.com/coding4fun  , www.mainfunction.com)  

    Why should I choose to teach using Visual Basic .NET?

    • The syntax for Visual basic is very friendly to beginners. While Visual Basic is a full strength professional grade programming language its roots are embedded in BASIC which was invented to teach programming to everyone.
    • Windows Forms allow students to create real Windows programs quickly and easily. By achieving early success students are encouraged to continue.
    • Visual Studio supports Pocket PC programming in Visual Basic though the use of a built-in emulator. Students can also install programs on their own Pocket PCs and share them with friends.
    • Unlike tools designed just to be simple introductory environments,, Visual Basic scales up to very sophisticated programs and projects.
    • Visual basic is today one of the most widely used programming languages in the world with millions of programmers using it.

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic .NET 2002/2003 to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    • Edit and Continue. This feature that was popular with VB 6 and earlier is back and more powerful than ever. It allows more flexibility in debugging and in correcting errors.
    • Better debugging. The newest Visual Studio gives more and better warnings and error messages before the code is compiled. Autocorrect provides suggestions for many common errors.
    • The Immediate window in Design mode. This feature allows students to execute and evaluate code without running the whole program. This is another great feature from VB 6 which has been brought back to meet customer needs.
    • The My Namespace. Students can easily access system information and resources. For example: My.Computer.Audio lets students play sound files without complicated system calls.
    • Snap lines help students line up objects on a Windows form far more easily and accurately than ever before.
    • Generic data types. Similar to Java generics or C++ template classes.
    • Read more about these and other new features here.

    When will support for Visual Basic 6.0 end?

    The answer depends on “what do you mean by support?” The complete support explanation for Visual Basic 6.0 is available at http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=2971

    • Mainstream support ended in March of 2005.
    • Extended support will continue until March 2008.
    • The Visual Basic 6.0 runtime system will be included in Windows Vista (the next generation operating system from Microsoft) so teachers who have Visual Studio 6.0 and want to use it into the future will be able to do so with Windows Vista.
    • There will be some support for VB 6.0 applications in Vista. Read about that here.

    How much does it cost for a high school to upgrade to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    • The software is available via the MSDN AA program for $299 for the school. This allows a school to install the software on all of the CS lab computers, the CS teacher computers, and lets students install the software on their own computers at home.
    • An alternative is the free download of Visual Studio Express Editions. The Express Versions do not offer the complete set of features available  in the full IDE of Visual Studio 2005
    • A number of states have a state-wide MSDN AA agreement that provides the MSDN Academic Alliance (MSDN AA) program to all high schools in the state. There is a map of these states at MainFunction.com
  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Five unsolved problems in computer science

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    I've been hearing (reading in blogs and comments actually) that a lot of people think that all the big, important or interesting problems in computer science have been solved. Well the Bill Gates college tour visited Columbia yesterday and the computer science faculty there presented Bill wit h a list of the top five remaining computer science problems. You can read about the whole visit at Kevin Schofield's blog. I think that it is important for students to know that there are important and difficult problems left to solve.

    BTW Bill added a sixth problem - concurrency - to the list the faculty gave him. How do you break up problems so that multiple processors can work on them at the same time. This is a huge problem because we are running into limits on how fast one computer can run. That means that the way to get answers faster is going to mean getting computers to work together. This is something that students may find to be an interesting puzzle to work on.

    - Alfred Thompson

     

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Schools and Blogging

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    The latest flap around schools and blogs is around a school in New Jersey that has ordered students to remove their blogs from the Internet. (Story here) My own experience with schools and newspapers suggests two things. One is that there is more to this story than is in the press. The other is that overreactions to things students do, and not just on the Internet, is fairly common in schools.

    For the media, their biggest interest is in making mountains out of mole hills. Mole hills do not sell newspapers but mountains do. Though the facts may be similar to what is being reported I would not judge any school by what is in the press. But mainly I want to talk about schools so I will move on.

    Schools in general are almost paranoid about protecting their students. Admittedly they have historically been more attuned to looking for external (to the school) threats than internal but they are very sensitive to all sorts of threats these days. It is a scary time to be charged with protecting children. There are a lot of bad people out there. Schools have to protect students from other students, from parents, for strangers, and even from themselves. Children make bad decisions on a daily basis.

    Schools also try to protect themselves; all organizations do. Schools, especially private schools, live by their reputations. So threats to those reputations are taken seriously. This leads to some over reactions. Just look at how defensive the news media get when they are criticized.

    The case in the news article suggests to me that the school in question was worried about students giving away too much personally identifying information. We all know that predators are out there on the Internet and that they use information they find to target kids. It’s a valid concern. But it also apprears that the school was worried about students making negative comments about the school. Kids will do that. One would like to think that the school would trust other adults to be smart enough about the nature of kids to not worry too much about that. But as I said, when your success depends on your reputation you can get very protective about it.

    A number of years ago one of my students posted a doctored picture of me, my face on another body, and people got very worked up over it. Yes it was insulting and no I wouldn’t want people to think it represented me. But at the same time I understand that kids will be kids. A bigger deal was made over this than I would have liked. This was a case of the school trying to protect me. And while I appreciate that I would have rather we used the "teachable moment" a little differently.

    The same is true with kids and blogging. I wish schools taught more about the Internet. Sometimes, if kids are lucky, there will be a librarian (usually) or other teacher who teaches about how to do a good Internet search and how to evaluate the worth of a site. But that’s usually about as far as we go. No one warns kids about releasing too much information. No one warns them about chat rooms, email scams, IM bullies, or talks to them about proper Internet etiquette.

    Of course this Internet thing is new to teachers. At many schools you are lucky if the teachers can use the Internet for more than email and web browsing. Schools of Education are not teaching this stuff. People have to learn it on their own. When you don’t have enough information overreaction is inevitable. So with kids on the Internet there is a sort of perfect storm: protecting kids, protecting the school, and ignorance. Is it any wonder that schools overreact?

    The answer, as with so many things, is education. Teachers and administrators need to be educated about the Internet. They need to learn what blogs (and other Internet tools) are and how they are used, they need to know how to use the Internet to search and evaluate web sites and they need to learn how to deal with what students are doing on the Internet.

    We only hold students accountable for what is taught. Shouldn’t the same be true for teachers? Now who do we hold accountable to teach the teachers?

    - Alfred Thompson

    Cross posted to my Social Computing blog - Cyberspace People Watcher.

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