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

February, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    XNA - Games for the Zune


    Well there are always questions about an handheld game device from Microsoft. Well this isn't it. But what the XNA team did announce today is that XNA Game Studio 3.0 will support creating games for the Zune. And yes there will be multi-player games using the Zune's built in networking. Now that should be interesting. The announcement on the XNA blog is here. There is also a FAQ on the Creators Club web forum. Read the FAQ here. One thing of note is that your games will have access to non-DRM music on your Zune as well. That should make for some interesting mash up games.

    But there is more. What about people being able to distribute or even sell their home grown games though Xbox LIVE Marketplace? Yep, that is coming as well. The announcement on the XNA blog is here with an FAQ here. Looks like some sample community games are available now and "will be playable for a very limited time." Get them while they are free people!

    Personally I'm pretty psyched about the Zune games. I got a Zune for Christmas and some casual games to play on it interests me quite a bit. I like the idea of students having to learn how to deal with limited screens and limited memory as well. Nasty of me isn't it?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Programming as the New Literacy


    Regular readers know that I have been pushing this idea of programming and computer science as being a liberal art - something that everyone should learn some thing about. Recently I came across an article by Marc Prensky that says pretty much the same thing.  One key quote is:

    I am one of these last, in that I believe fluency with multiple spoken languages will continue to be important, and that multimedia, interactivity, and other game-derived devices will be increasingly significant tools for communicating twenty-first-century thought. Nonetheless, I firmly believe that the true key literacy of the new century lies outside all these domains.
    I believe the single skill that will, above all others, distinguish a literate person is programming literacy, the ability to make digital technology do whatever, within the possible one wants it to do -- to bend digital technology to one's needs, purposes, and will, just as in the present we bend words and images. Some call this skill human-machine interaction; some call it procedural literacy. Others just call it programming.

    The whole article is worth reading especially the parts where he talks about there once being a time when people did not read and write but rather hired people to do those things for them. I find that a most fascinating analogy. Does it go to far? I'm not sure it does at all.

    For years we have had jokes at the expense of people who could not program their VCRs to show the correct time. Newer VCRs do not show the time and in fact get the time from external sources. But today a lot of people have DVRs to record their TV shows and one still has to do some "programming" of a sort to get them to work. Beyond that though people who work with information, numbers, text, data of any kind, are increasingly having to do some of what we call programming to get the most out if them.

    We use Boolean expressions to do searches not just in databases but in Internet search engines. We use more and more complicated decision structures with our spreadsheets. I see a time when more and more applications will include the ability to customize them with programming. It may not be programming in Java or C++ and it sure will not be in COBOL but of course the concepts are largely constant.

    Will the person who says "I can't program" someday find themselves in the same situation as a person who today says "I can't read?" Perhaps not to the same degree but to some degree I think it could happen. What do you think? More importantly what do your children or your students think? Send them to the article and ask them if it makes sense to them? Is is scary to them or do they think they are ready for that sort of future?

    Of course the question for schools (and for parents) is, if this is indeed the future are we doing enough to prepare today's young people for it? If not, how do we fix that? OK well DreamSpark is one attempt to help but a lot more is needed in our schools.

    [Note: Lots of comments and not everyone agrees. Always a good thing. Be sure to add your opinion.]

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    DreamSpark - Microsoft Gives Software to Students for Academic Use


    OK so it is already all over the blogosphere that  Bill Gates announced a new program called DreamSpark to give software to students. (The official press release is here BTW) So I'm kind of late to the party already. Channel 8 is going to be a key source for developing news on this project so you may want to keep looking over there. (The main DreamSpark site is here.)

    In fact to kick it off there is an interview with Bill Gates (in case you were wondering who that guy with Max Zuckerman was) talking about the program and about the future potential of software.

    So what is being offered? Glad you asked!

    Microsoft developer tools.

    Microsoft designer tools. Expression Studio, including:

    Microsoft platform resources.

    • SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition
    • Windows Server, Standard Edition (Yes, Windows Server Edition!!)

    There are two key FAQs.

    A couple of questions have come after that. They are probably in the FAQs but maybe you can't wait or maybe they are not. Yeah, that's why I was waiting to blog so I could answer more questions. No really! OK maybe not  but it works out well that way.

    What about high school?

    It's coming. It has a high priority as the next step. Bill Gates says it will happen and that commitment appears several times in the press release and in other official statements. I'll have more information about this as things get settled and information becomes available.

    How do students learn how to use this stuff once they have it?

    I've got a few resources listed here and I am working on getting more listed. So return often. And if you have some to recommend please leave them in the comments.

    • Beginning Developer Learning Center - a great place to start with videos, tutorials, and projects for learners of all ages.
    • Coding 4 Fun - Lots of fun projects most with step by step instructions and many with videos.
    • MSDN Forums - These are the forums the professionals use but beginners are welcome and there are lots of people willing to help with technical questions. A lot of students and faculty members are already there asking the tough technical questions.
    • XNA Forums - If you want to learn how to develop video games with XNA this is the place to ask questions.
    • Channel 8 and the Channel 8 Student Union - lots of information in the videos there and lots of good discussion in the forums of the Student Union.

    What about faculty? What about classroom/course use?

    Microsoft is retaining their existing programs for getting software into the classroom and for course/faculty use. The MSDN Academic Alliance program (MSDN AA) is great for getting software for teaching labs, including a lot more than DreamSpark offers students, into the hands of faculty. Also there is the IT Academy program. If you are a faculty member who teaches IT/CS or related topics you really want to check those programs out. MSDN AA and IT Academy are both programs that already include high schools in case you were not aware of that.

    Faculty can also get access to software though the Faculty Connection sites.

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