With Online Resources, Do We Still Need Computer Science Teachers?

Many online resources help people learn parts of computer science. Code.org is one example. Universities have MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) aplenty. Just put MOOC into your favorite search engine, like DuckDuckGo, to find examples. More resources keep coming. This prompts some to wonder whether we still need computer science teachers.

Alfred Thompson, wrote this CSTA Blog post titled “Do We Still Need Computer Science Teachers?” (CSTA is the Computer Science Teachers Association.) He points out that online resources work for people who can learn for themselves. But,

“For every person who can learn on their own there are thousands who cannot. They need that personal touch.”

Thompson points out that teachers can explain in many different ways and give personalized hints without giving away answers. Further,

“We adapt the curriculum around our students. Is one class more interested in story telling than games? Fine, change the projects. More interested in graphics than console applications? Change the projects. Is everyone in the class doing the same project boring for students and teacher? Fine. Let’s all do something different.”

Automated computing systems are still not good at doing these things. We still need computer science teachers. We need them more than ever with the increase in computing’s importance in our society. His blog post has more. I suggest you read it here.

New Piano Brings High Definition Sound

University music departments’ used piano sales started started my wife and I thinking about upgrading our piano from the small used one we bought some 35 years ago. Wayne State University’s sale was near, so we checked out multiple pianos a couple of days ago. Pianos now come in several shapes and sizes. Our salesman (Paul, from Evola Music) helpfully led us through the many choices. He played and we played and listened to uprights and small grand pianos. A 51 inch tall upright stood out with a full, rich sound. The keys have a luxurious touch that can play a much wider dynamic range than our old piano. We purchased the piano; it was delivered the same day.

At home, the piano’s sound continually amazes. We have experienced sounds we did not know a home piano could make. And, the piano is more fun to play because of its sound and keyboard touch. We certainly have been playing the piano more often. Wow. The experience reminds me of the first times experiencing a new and better sound system. Or, the first times experiencing high definition television (HDTV) in your home.

The piano is a Kawai K-500, in case you would like to check it out.

Get Computer Science into Schools Through Other Classes?

Mark Guzdial posts about Computer Science Education in his Computing Education blog. (I subscribe to email that updates whenever he posts.)  His recent post “Get CS into Schools through Math and Science Classes: What we might lose” is one of his many posts that I like.

Mark Guzdial lists three reasons not to pursue CS through the math/science model (see the post for detail):

  1. Can science and math teachers help us broaden participation in computing?
  2. Do we lose our spot at the table?
  3. Do we lose significant funding for CS in schools?

Math and Science students certainly can benefit by learning CS concepts and CS approaches to modeling and problem solving.  And there is a need in the natural sciences for abilities to analyze data sets in ways CS can help. (See bioinformatics.) However, the benefits of separate CS courses are unlikely to be realized by including CS-related units in other subjects.  Expecting teachers, whose primary interest is in one subject, to teach a secondary subject within their courses is unlikely to lead to adequate coverage of the secondary subject, specially when they are measured by how well their students learn primary subject areas for standardized tests. This approach marginalizes the importance of CS.

The answer is to grow Computer Science courses in our K-12 schools.

Train Expo 2014 is Fun and Educational

We enjoyed our day (June 21, 2014) in Owosso Michigan for Train Expo 2014 located at the Steam Railroading Institute. A day’s admission to the expo was $25 and $35 with a one hour steam train ride. Other combinations and prices were available. Our train ride included a simulated train robbery. There are few opportunities these days to hear the sounds and see the sights of the stream train era. This excellent show continues tomorrow with an air show and car show and rides and snacks and souvenirs also available in town. Recommended. 

LadyParagons: “Why I Became a Computer Engineer”

Website LadyParagons believes women and girls can and do exceed at STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). They are “building a community to tell the stories of women in STEM, showcase women’s STEM organizations, and provide a platform where ladies can help ladies succeed in STEM careers”. The site is cofounded by Marie Webster and Sarah (Webster) Worsham. Marie Webster has a Ph. D. in pharmacology and molecular sciences and is a postdoctoral fellow at the Wistar institute. Sarah Worsham has an MBA and is co-owner of Sazbean Consulting doing digital strategy and web development. Learn more about them at LadyParagons’ about page. I am very proud of what these women are accomplishing, of course.

Sarah Worsham recently wrote “Why I Became a Computer Engineer” on LadyParagons. May it be an inspiration to young people to consider and go into a computing-related field. She writes

Why did I become a Computer Engineer? It wasn’t what I originally set out to do, but it has always felt “right”.  Whenever I get a chance to program, I get a thrill of figuring out a problem, coming up with a solution and putting it into place.  Engineering is a discipline of creation, logic and problem solving.  The skills I’ve learned have been applicable to not only management roles, but also marketing.

Coincidentally, I happened on computing after developing a variety of interests. Kalamazoo College had a computer fifty years ago. I worked for their computer center and learned my first programming from IBM technical manuals and with other student computing explorers. There were no computing courses for credit at the time. The college now has had them for many years. In fact, computing courses should be everywhere. Promote them in your local schools.