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My friend and co-worker Philip DesAutels is in Africa this week. Philip has a wide range of experience including some time in the Peace Corps bringing technology to farmers and other agriculture programs. So he was invited to participate in the Zambia Workshop Workshop II: Delivery Systems. The conference runs November 11-16, 2007 and is in Livingstone, Zambia. (Some people get all the good trips!!)
The purpose of this conference "is to identify possible transformative approaches, both technological and non-technological, to the creation and distribution of agricultural information." I have heard Philip and others talk about the ways that technology, including computer and communications technology, can help people in rural areas become more fully engaged - to their advantage - in the global economy.
Philip is blogging about his trip and the conference and I look forward to reading more about the trip, the conference and the ways that technology is making a difference in Africa and around the world.
I've been thinking about this whole "computer science is a liberal art" that I have commented on before. John Mullinax has been hearing it as well so maybe this is an idea with traction. Well perhaps it is gaining traction among techies. Is it gaining any among educators? I'm not so sure about that.
Ben Chun teaches computer and math courses and recently he blogged about the difference between teaching math and teaching computer courses which are outside the usual requirements. On one hand these "outside" courses allow a teacher a great deal of freedom about what and how to teach. On the other hand there are an awful lot of students graduating high school without the computer skills they really should have to succeed.
Now you may think that somehow, like magic, all teens know all there is to know about computers. You probably think they know how to use search engines well, how to get a lot out of a word processor and of course they know all about email. Well the teachers in my audience are mostly laughing about now because they know otherwise. It is not a happy joyful laugh though. There is a touch of sadness there because teachers know that students are often missing out.
Now there is a big difference between knowing computer applications and computer science. While a lot of school boards and administrators are confused about that most computer/business/technology teachers are not. But the two do go hand in hand. Computer science knowledge like Boolean algebra and decision structures make getting the most out of spreadsheets a whole lot more likely just to name one of the more obvious connections.
And yet often neither computer applications or computer science are required for graduation from high school. And even when they are they are seldom tested in any sort of standardized way. The State of New Hampshire's ICT requirements are here BTW. They actually look pretty good in theory. And most of it is required before entering high school. But there is a lack of specificity that concerns me. And there is no requirement for a real computer science course anywhere in the standard.
There is a course "Applying programming concepts used in software development." that is listed as a course that a local school board "shall provide" but in practice most school board seem to think that including any of the listed courses is enough. Well the curriculum is crowded after all. And there is a shortage of teachers who can really teach computer science. And of course No Child Left Behind doesn't require these skills be tested. So well, maybe we'll get to that one day. Or not.
On the up side the Department of Education in New Hampshire is at least collecting a lot of materials to help the schools who want to do ICT right. Though to be honest I am having trouble understanding where "music theory" and "TV Broadcasting" fit into the ICT standards as I read them. They are listed as courses that meet the requirement at one NH high school.
Something just for fun today. Recently Lucy Sanders of NCWIT published a blog post called "Computing and the Letter P." In it she posted 43 different computer/computer science related words that begin with the letter "P." Quite a few words to be sure. Is there something about P?
I was thinking it might be an interesting game to pick different letters and see how many words one could come up with that relate to computers and start with that letter. I am thinking that X and Z might be challenging. Of course X and Z get used as variable names quite a bit but does that really count?
For A I was thinking:
But those are just the easy ones. I suspect one could come up with a lot more if one tried. Feel free to add some in the comments. And yes I imagine there are vocabulary lists one could look for and they are probably all nicely in alphabetical order. But that would be cheating now wouldn't it? I could see having a class create their own lists without reference to books or the Internet as a way to keep them occupied when a substitute teacher is called in on short notice. Perhaps a parlor game for geeks as well. No drinking games though ok?