Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Computer Science, Coding and the Future Economy

I have grown fond of saying "every company is a technology company." While we may tend to characterize different companies by the products they sell, the manufacturing, marketing, logistics, finance, security and corporate governance of any institution are now intimately connected to, and dependent on, technology.

What does that mean for our education system, and how we raise our kids? For starters, I think it means that a core requirement in middle and high school, along with English, history, math and science, needs to be computer science. We can't afford for the next generation to be dependent on technology, but to have no idea how it works. Not only that, but knowing how computers works can be enormously empowering--economically, politically, socially and intellectually. Given that native English speakers have a distinct advantage in learning computer science, because so much of the computer language is based on English vocabulary and syntax, it seems like a no-brainer investment to make in our core curriculum.

Secondly, the rapid technology revolution means we need to leverage new tools like cloud computing, tablets, smart phones, broadband wireless, web applications and wikipedia to make our schools more efficient, education more engaging and personalized, and the objectives of education more directly relevant to student lives. How should this look, managerially? As a staff composition? Schools should not only have designated "tech people" to maintain the network, or computer teachers teaching to type. Schools should have on site programmers building new applications, side-by-side with teachers, so that the "edtech" of the next generation is tech that is specified and customized to real needs of teacher from all subjects.

I have had the great experience of just completing the first version of my own web-based software application for world history classrooms. I worked with a designer, a UI/UX expert, a back-end engineer, and a programmer. We started with about a month of conversation about the requirements for the database schema and the front-end user interface. After building the database using PostgresQL and drawing mockups for the main user pages, our programmer got to coding the program using Django, a Python web framework.

This was my first experience managing a software development project, and I feel I grew more professionally and intellectually doing this than doing many other tasks over the past few years. Moreover, the product we created, because of careful planning and fluid communication, is a reflection of over five years of my work teaching and seeking solutions to easily assess students for the purpose of differentiation. Now anyone using this app can have an incredibly powerful set of data to inform instruction. I suspect, and our research will soon reveal, that it will transform the learning in classrooms that use it.

It's time to take the technology revolution to our schools; not to make money (though that will obviously happen), but to make a difference in students' lives.

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