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What does is mean to be in a post BASIC world? This is the question that comes to mine when I read about an article titled How are students learning programming in a post-Basic world? I think that for most of the people in the discussion it means that we are no longer in an era where all computers come with a programming language such as they all used to come with BASIC. It’s not so much about BASIC having gone by the wayside, although some would like to see that happen, as it is not having that excitement , that thrill, that joy of learning enough programming to create that first program to solve a real problem. (A good insight into that is a related article Midnight programming, 1979 vs. 2011) In the early days when computers came with BASIC (most often written by some guy named Gates who had a little software company selling BASIC interpreters to lots of computer companies like one in California called Apple) lots of people were teaching themselves programming.
In some sense one had to teach oneself. Oh there were books to help but computer science programs in universities were rare, in high schools rarer still and before high school pretty much nonexistent. But while the BASIC language was simple so were our aspirations of what we could accomplish with computers. I still remember learning about loops by creating a program that printed out the times tables from 1 to 12. I could impress people with the result believe it or not. Oh how times have changed! But does this really mean we are in a post BASIC world? I’m not so sure.
First off while few systems come with a good BASIC (or similar tool) installed there are plenty of good free tools that are available as a download. Event the article that kicked this off lists several of them such as Small Basic, Visual Basic 2010 Express, Scratch and Alice and more. There are command line compilers included with some open source OS distributions as well though in all honestly I don’t think a command line compiler is the best thing for an absolute beginner. That is another way things have changed – people expect GUI development tools that create GUI applications. This is one reason why Python, as great as it is for many things, is not my first choice. It’s easy enough to get all these tools but I do wish that they came standard with every operating system. That simple act of discovery or rather of not stumbling on it when playing with the OS is a stumbling block.
I also don’t think that BASIC is dead by any means. I love BASIC. Visual Basic is my personal favorite but I think for total beginners Small basic is a great way to start. It is simple and easy to use – like the BASIC interpreters so many of us stumbled upon. It is friendly, there are turtle graphics, it is easy to start with, there are samples and documentation. It is very accessible. Yet it is powerful enough to do real applications. Possibly best of all there is that “Graduate” button that creates a Visual Basic project so you can move to the next level.
I never bought the line that BASIC was somehow bad for you. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Visual Basic is as good an OOP language as any other. Small Basic is a nice step in that direction without the professional tool complexity that stifles some beginners. Get a tool, explore programming, have fun with it. You can learn to do powerful things with BASIC without weird looking semi colons, curly braces or having to be rigid about white space. Get hooked on programming like I am so many others have. Yes, this is not your father’s BASIC and not it did not come pre-installed on your computer. But stretch a little. It may change your life.
Related posts – mostly by other people:
Wow! What a week it has been. I came home from ISTE in time for the Fourth of July holiday. I’m still mulling over all I heard and learned at ISTE. If things ever quiet down I’ll try to write some of them up. As it was I spent a lot of the long weekend doing work around the house. Yes, we computer geeks do things other than play with computers and the Internet. I installed kitchen cabinets for example. And some yard work. The best of the weekend was spending time with family though. I am putting this post together from Rapid City, South Dakota where I am visiting the SD Schools of Mines and Technology and their wonderful program for native American students. I will be judging some software designed and written by the students. Should be fun. And now a few links.
First off it was great to see Note-Taker, Imagine Cup finalists, win an IDEA Design Award These students are not just doing software that is for a contest but are writing software to change lives so it is great to see them get even more recognition. Speaking of the Imagine Cup, have you voted for you favorite Imagine Cup team today?http://www.imaginecup.com/pca Come on - you know you want to. The teams from the US need some more love. They have great projects and we should all show them that we are supporting them against the rest of the world.
And Andrew Parsons has some updates on the Imagine Cup game competition:
Over in the UK they had a big Kinect for Windows event and the team put up a great blog post with lots of videos. Be sure to check it out if you are interested in where this Natural User Interface device is going.
Speaking about Kinect, visit the new Microsoft Kinect in Education web site to see what we are thinking about in that space.
One last link, this one from ISTE, they have released the new NETS for Computer Science Educators (pdf)