Computing Education and Education Reform

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

Computing Education and Education Reform

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One of my frustrations these days is that with all the talk of education reform there is not much talk about computing education in that mix. It is as if people are willing to sacrifice computing for other changes. Of course we see people talking about dropping the arts and music from the curriculum but when that happens lots of people object. And rightly so in my opinion. But cut money for new computer labs or lay off the computer science teacher for budgetary reasons and there is a lot of silence. After decades of hype about technology improving education people seem to think that reform means getting rid of the computers. This at a time when computers are becoming more and more of our lives (smart phone anyone? have you seen the computers that pass for check out registers lately?) we are willing to avoid teaching our young students abut them. And that makes sense to some people?

There are a few people with a vested interest in computing education pushing for more of it. The Computing In The Core initiative has a small number of corporate sponsors including Microsoft. One doesn’t see many computer technology bloggers or other social media or even the mainstream print/Internet technology media talking about the issue though. That bugs me no end. Just a personal feeling but I think these people also have a vested interest in promoting computer science and related technology education. But they seem to think it is someone else’s job.

I do hear (read) some school/education reformers talking about teaching social media more. And that is a good thing. I am waiting for a bunch of students to one day ask their teachers “social media such as Facebook and Twitter is a major force for change and even revolution in the world today. Is that why it is banned in schools rather than taught in schools?” I do think we need to teach students how to use the Internet better. Better means things like safer, doing searches more accurately and efficiently, communicating more clearly and with a sense of how privacy works. Privacy is a big thing of course. Part of the problem here is that the teachers don’t understand this stuff. And of course parents and the media blame teachers when students use the Internet incorrectly so avoiding the topic and banning the tools is the easy way out. parents who are fearful of the Internet are fine with that. It’s a shame really as it ensures that things don’t get better anytime soon.

At lot of this has at its root (again my opinion) in a general lack of understanding of computers, computing and networking.  I think that more computer science, not just computer applications though we should do that better as well, education would help. If we teach the applications earlier and use them as a way to learn other things rather than as a boring “this is how you use Word” in isolation we can accomplish a number of things. One is that we can better use technology for education and another is that we leave room for students to learn computer science when they are first developmentally ready for it.

We can use computer science to teach math better. We can use computer science to teach problems solving better. We can use the context of computer science to talk about and teach ethical behavior. There are computer science concepts that are intrinsic parts of social networking so we can better prepare students to live in a connected (networked) world. Rather than being absent from the education reform discussion computer science should be an integral part of the discussion.

Am I right? If not, where am I wrong? Where do you stand on computing education and education reform?



  • I feel the same way.  As someone who started in ed tech--primarily teaching applications--I've become frustrated with the almost exclusive focus on teaching applications in "technology" classes.  I'm teaching Scratch in 8th grade and I feel like I could move that back to 7th.  I also think there's just a huge misunderstanding about the difference between teaching computing and teaching computers (and their applications).  I've had parents say, why do students need computer science when they already know how to use Facebook.  And I have to say, well, what about having them build the next Facebook.  And of course I know, but they don't, that being about to update their status in Facebook does not mean they understand anything about how it works, or the ramifications of posting the wrong thing, or how those "bad" posts even get out there in the first place.

    So, what I hear sometimes is a lot of talk about increasing the use of technology, without any mention of computing, or really any clear plan for what "increasing the use of technology" means.

  • Different schools have different levels of experience in charge -- lets say top of the org chart.   Lots of what we do in public high school is ultimately driven by keeping the flow of money coming in.  Since the Fed government says you must protect the children from the bad Internet, we have a lot of trouble.    My students are well behaved in that regard.  We don't have trouble with them going to bad places.   But we do have to have a policy that handles the lowest common denominator.  I doubt we'll be using facebook in class any time soon.    The law and support for teachers job protection is too far behind for that to happen.  there are other schools that are at least trying to.

  • Different schools have different levels of experience in charge -- lets say top of the org chart.   Lots of what we do in public high school is ultimately driven by keeping the flow of money coming in.  Since the Fed government says you must protect the children from the bad Internet, we have a lot of trouble getting buy in for doing anything like social networking.   My students are well behaved in that regard.  We don't have trouble with them going to bad places.   But we do have to have a policy that handles the lowest common denominator: no video, no music, no social networks, no e-mail, no communication or personal stuff on the school computers.  I doubt we'll be using facebook in class any time soon.    The law and support for teachers job protection is too far behind for that to happen.  there are other schools that are at least trying to.

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