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What are your suggestions to improve technology education?

By mcoleman0923 in Technology
Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 01:51:47 PM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

I am the technology coordinator/network administrator at a high visibility public high school in the capital city of a southern state. Because of the visibility of my position, I found myself last week in a meeting with the Governor, the State Superintendent of Education and several representatives of the local military base's IT program. We were there to discuss how we are going to improve Technology Education statewide. All involved want to make sure our next generation has: a) the IT skills to find a decent job, and b) the IT employers in state to hire them. They all seemed quite sincere about wanting to do something, if less sure about what exactly needs to be done

Now I have been told to write an email with suggestions of some avenues to explore. If you had the opportunity to write this email yourself, what would you suggest?

Many topics were touched on during this initial meeting. Internships and their merits seemed to be a favorite topic, but I see limitations to this, especially for our more rural counties that have very few IT employers and even less money for computers at the schools. I personally would like to see some open source/free software solutions for our poorer counties. The committee seems wide open to suggestions and are anxious to hear many ideas.

What suggestions would you give the committee? I will send a link to this discussion page to the Governor's assistant, so if you believe you have an idea that would work or know of an idea that DOESN'T work please post and let us know.


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What are your suggestions to improve technology education? | 68 comments (68 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Concentrate on developing abilities. (4.62 / 16) (#1)
by dreamfish on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 01:14:04 PM EST

I would advise strongly against looking at technology education from the point of view of making students 'employable'. This way you end up with people who are good as technicians but hopeless at software architecture (algorithms, optimisation, design methodologies, etc.) - I've certainly come across such people. They can hack something together to get a job done but when it comes to playing a significant part in designing and implementing major software systems, they're lost.

Furthermore it's dangerous to incorporate into the syllabus specific software packages like SQL server or Oracle that may be out of date in some years from now. Supposing such an approach concentrated on Sybase? Sybase is far from a market leader now and of what they learned on database design through this maybe irrelevant now.

The emphasis should be on core, transferable skills like those in programming, like database schema design (not 'how to set up MS SQL server') and object orientation. In the end it gives these students greater scope in the areas they can work in and improves their overall, long term employability.

Following OSS is good. OSS more often follows defined standards, is lower cost and can be more reliable. Not only that but you may find a lot of students know all about OSS packages from hacking at home (and in effect have done the 'technician training' bit already).

re (4.50 / 4) (#5)
by ZanThrax on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 01:50:17 PM EST

I agree with dreamfish. Too much emphasis is being placed on "employability", at _all_ levels of education. Sure, they can do whatever job they've trained for, but that's it. They can't do something else, and they can't think either.

Use OSS products, especially in the poor districts, and teach them how to use it, how it works, and how to make their own tools for it. Get the students who aren't hacking at home doing it at school.

The rest of the school system is important if your program is to succeed. Make sure they can read (phonics isn't reading), make sure they know math (not that they can do a simple algebra problem given paper & 10 minutes), and be sure that they are learning to think and question. (The best history student is the one who argues with the textbook's reasoning.)

Before flying off the handle over the suggestion that your a cocksucker, be sure that you do not, in fact, have a cock in your mouth.
[ Parent ]

Employability (4.60 / 5) (#6)
by Arkady on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 01:57:38 PM EST

I completely agree on "employability" not being an appropriate focus for the education system. Education should be a preparation for becomming a full participant in society, not some training regimen for cranking out wage slaves taiolored to the current desires of industry.

If industry wants schools to train a workforce, let _them_ pay for it; they have most of the money as it is. Let the public school system focus on preparing students to be contributing citizens.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
Technology Education Musts (4.40 / 15) (#2)
by acestus on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 01:19:21 PM EST

I went to a great high school here in Eastern PA, but its technology education (to use your phrase) stank. It offered two computer courses: Desktop Publishing (which should have been called Adobe Pagemaker 101) and Intro to Programming (which should have been called Adobe Pagemaker 101.) That is: the only programming course was supposed to teach Pascal and Hypercard (!) but turnout was so low (presumably because no one interested in programming was interested in such crufty languages) that the teacher scrapped the course and taught Pagemaker to everyone, no matter what they had signed up for.

Tech Ed needs to do a few simple things:
  • Start Early
  • Make technology everpresent but not overwhelming
  • Teach both practically and theoretically
  • Keep up to date with the times
Now, point by point:

Starting EarlyComputers, televisions, and so on, should be used judiciously, and students should get hands-on experience using a computer. This experience should come with explanation, not just walk-through. If you only tell a student what to type or click, without telling them why, you're not teaching them anything. If you teach them all the little things as they come up, they'll be efficient users, even if they forego any further technical training.

OveremphasisTechnology should be used whenever it's needed, but it shouldn't be such a dominating force that it overwhelms the things that are being taught. I always feel upset that calculators are doing away with so much higher (and lower) math. I know that calculators are important, but math teaches us to think well. Similarly, computers and network references can perform huge searches, but this is no substitute for knowing how to research a topic.

Teaching Theoretically
Teaching a student how to write simple code is all well and good, but if they don't understand the theory behind it, both logical and structural, they won't code well. Coders who don't understand (on some level) the formal systems theory that underlies Comp Sci are, generally, bad coders.

Keeping up-to-date
My highschool thought that teaching hypercard was relevant programming. While it might've been useful at some point along the line, as an object lesson in coding, it was not a worthwhile skill.

This is not an exit.
Basic Education (4.73 / 15) (#3)
by Arkady on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 01:23:29 PM EST

The best thing you can do to improve IT skill/preparedness among students is to improve the state of basic education. Focus on generating interest, not just minimal ability, in the traditional "3 R's". Without the ability to read, write clearly and perform basic math functions (in your head, not on a calculator) you can't be a fully functioning participant in this society, much less become a serious (or even barely functional) computer jockey.

Most importantly, you need to convince students that learning in and of itself is a worthy and interesting goal and you need to help them develop the ability to learn. Facts are useful and important, but anyone who knows how to learn on their own and enjoys it will be able to find whatever facts they need later. You know the adage: "Teach a man to fish ...".

Read Clifford Stoll's book, "High-Tech Heretic", for an extensive discussion of where the hype over computers and the Internet in society (especially in education) has stepped well beyond the bounds of reason.

I'm sure the rest of you out there who geek for a living would agree that without solid reading comprehension, clear writing and a developed facility with basic math you don't have a hope of comprehending computers well enough to do more than use a few programs and maybe AOL. If you (and these politico and military folks) are serious about improving IT education, then focus on the basics first; anyone with a good grasp of these can easily pick up any specific IT skills they might need on their own.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

...and where it comes from (5.00 / 6) (#13)
by minusp on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 03:31:49 PM EST

then focus on the basics first; anyone with a good grasp of these can easily pick up any specific IT skills they might need on their own.

The big thing here is that the TEACHERS need to have these basic skills, as well, and be able to transmit them. I have run across teachers up north here, as well as in the deepest south, who had real trouble administering the verbal comprehension portions of standardized tests, because they could not read well. Others, particularly math/science, just don't know the material, the district needed a teacher, so...
On the other hand, even a teacher that is aces with the material is no help if they can't express it effectively. This may not, in fact be the fault of the teacher, by the way. Class size is a big factor, beyond X number of students any class will degenerate into a mob. The culture of discipline within administration may be more important... if the admins have given up, the teacher knows no there is no backup when it comes down to it.
BTW, the above is based on public AND private school experiences....
Remember, regime change begins at home.
[ Parent ]
Teachers (4.00 / 4) (#21)
by analog on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 04:27:48 PM EST

The big thing here is that the TEACHERS need to have these basic skills

I think people don't realize how bad a problem this can be. My wife comes from a family of teachers, and it's frightening how often they run across teachers (and their students) who have no clue what they're about.

My mother-in-law (a retired high school history teacher whose degree is actually in physical education; luckily for her students, history has been a lifelong passion of hers) frequently proctors exams for people who are trying to obtain their teaching credential; all the questions are essay questions, and all of the people taking the test have a bachelor's degree.

Some of the things people write on these tests just makes my jaw hit the floor. After she related a particularly egregious example I gave the answer to my nine year old son, just to see what he would make of it. He identified one factual error (there were several) and several grammatical errors.

I have been told upon relating this 'yes, but he's really smart'. Maybe. But I don't care how smart a child of that age is, if we are choosing our teachers properly there is no way they should be making errors he can identify and correct.

I think a lot of the problem lies in how we treat teachers. Recently our governor made a speech about his big push to draw teachers to an underprivileged neighborhood where the average time in job for teachers is about two years (the good ones leave as soon as they are able) and the academic performance of the students is very low. In among the glowing descriptions of how they could improve the lives of their students and make a difference in this world was the admission that they wouldn't make enough money to support themselves; they either had to have a spouse who could make up the difference or share lodging and expenses with others. And people wonder why those with a clue don't want to be teachers.

[ Parent ]

Re: Teachers (4.00 / 2) (#50)
by efarq on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 08:58:09 AM EST

I have been told upon relating this 'yes, but he's really smart'. Maybe. But I don't care how smart a child of that age is, if we are choosing our teachers properly there is no way they should be making errors he can identify and correct.

It may be painfully obvious to say this, but I think that a large part of the problem comes from the fact that the best students, who would presumably make the best teachers due to their command of the material, rarely choose to become teachers. I'm a third year chemistry student, and of all the chemistry students I know from the 1st year to the 4th, none have any particular interest in pursuing teaching at a secondary school level. Most everyone plans to go to medical school or get a Ph.D. in chemistry or some closely related discipline.

[ Parent ]

Learn concepts not specifics (4.60 / 5) (#20)
by Delirium on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 04:12:43 PM EST

You know the adage: "Teach a man to fish ...".

I find this adage applies extremely well to computer-related endeavors, and is too often ignored. The majority of computer-related education seems to be focused on teaching people specifics of how to do things - how to create a new document in Word, how to install a program from a CD-ROM, how to create a new image in Photoshop, etc. While these things do need to be learned eventually, it would be much more helpful to concentrate on broader issues - how creating new files in a program works in general, the basic concepts of a filesystem, executable files, etc. Too often I see people explaining to less-computer literate people step-by-step instructions for, say, downloading mp3s and then playing them with winamp. These usually take the form of saving them in the default download directory of Napster and then step-by-step instructions for getting to that directory in Windows Explorer - the person never really understands this whole directory concept or even the Explorer folder metaphor - he or she just knows "i need to double-click on "program files" then single-click on "napster" or whatever the specific instructions are.

[ Parent ]

Keep the computers separate. (4.75 / 16) (#4)
by sugarman on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 01:49:51 PM EST

By this, I mean keep them out of the regular classes. For the majority of high school subjects, the courses haven't been updated to properly utilize the computer as a resource. So what if it has Encarta or Word? They don't need it right that second. Its imporetant that the kids learn the skills they need for that subject without the need for a computer.

Also, computers in a non-tech classroom often become a source of distraction from the subject at hand. Especially if they have ICQ / AIM and the classes are networked. Passing notes in class was never this easy.

On the other hand, it might be an idea to have an open lab where kids can do their papers, research, etc. on spares or afterschool for an hour. As an alternative to putting computers in the non computer related classes.

As for actually improving tech education statewide? Traditionally this is something that is taught in post-secondary institutions, Tech schools and the like. Is the state gov't looking to provide the same education to their high-school students? (This is what I got from your question, parts A and B). Perhaps then they might want to rethink the plan.

While establishing basic competency in high school is admirable, having kids that can graduate and immediately jump into the IT workforce might be ill-advised. It would likely focus too much of the current curriculum on IT. Imagine if the whole school decided to focus on the Auto industry, and made everyoe take mandatory Shop classes. I mean, everyone is likely to drive a car, right? Thery should know the basics of how to run and maintain it.

(Just a second. I'm straying from my original point I think. This isn't sounding like such a bad idea).

Alright. Howabout this: have a mandatory 'Intro to IT course', so everyone is familiar enough with using it. But keep it removed from the nitty-gritty tech stuff. No ASM, no C. Maybe some QBasic so they get the gist of what a program is, have them do some basic HTML (make them hand their reports in that way or something), have it so they can work their way around an office suite (doesn't matter which one, they're all the same in the end). And maybe some basic web-usage: e-mail, web searches.

Make the rest of the stuff options: no point forcing kids into it if they have no desire. Maybe they do like cars and have an aptitude for it.

In the end, you might have some kids that are better prepeared to handle the real world, or a little bit better off when they enter that tech school. But don't try and replace those. There is too much else going on during high school to concentrate on one thing to the exclusion of all else.


Integrate the computers with classwork (3.25 / 4) (#18)
by mandomania on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 03:46:44 PM EST

My school's idea of proper computer use was using one to type up a book report. Until I was a senior in high school, I'd never seen a computer used for anything other than games and word processing.

My physics teacher (Mr. Bates, if you're out there, big thanks :) showed us that one could use a simple Mac Classic to take measurements for all sorts of cool experiments. Although it wasn't directly responsible for my choice of career, it did show me one of the OTHER things one can use a computer for.

Out in the real world, companies use computers for everything. I think that we should teach our children that, while Q3 is really cool, there are other things that can be done with a computer.

The Code is Sound.
[ Parent ]
Re: Integrate the computers with classwork (4.25 / 4) (#23)
by Arkady on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 04:44:47 PM EST

The important consideration is the appropriateness of the computer integration. In a physical sciance class, using a computer to control experiments and collect and analyze data is great: that's what scientists use them for. In an English or History class, using the computer to type up essays is about as close to the curriculam as it's reasonable to let the computer get.

A mutlimedia DVD on the Civil War can't compare to the educational impact of reading diaries and first hand accounts of people's experience in it or of travelling to Gettysburg or Shilloh. With the current state of digitized content and computer reading devices, literature cannot be acquired or comfortably read on a computer.

The computer and the Internet are just tools. As with any tool, it's important to remember to use it appropriately. Don't try to force it to do things at which it's not effective and/or at which we already have better tools.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
Office Suites -- They are not all the same (none / 0) (#53)
by rhkramer on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 10:40:27 AM EST

A small comment re the similarity of office suites, word processors in particular.

First a disclaimer: I haven't used much besides Word (97), AbiWord, and KLyX lately -- it's been a long time since I used WordStar and since I refused to use WordPerfect.

The following concepts are important, and people who learn to use word processors with these capabilites are more valuable:

-WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean), implemented by styles in Word and AbiWord (even though they would not claim that, and even though AbiWord styles are not ready for prime time yet) and by "environments" in KLyX and LyX is an important paradigm. (No, I have no idea what paradigm means, I just thought it would make me sound smart. ;-) ) (In general, this is the concept of typing text and "declaring" that it is a heading, body text, a table, etc., rather than formatting each heading manually.)

-Collapsible outlining (called collapsible outlining in Word, but similar capability available as "Online View" (Word 97), and in KLyX, called, I think, Document View. By the time AbiWord is finished, similar capability will exist.

-Markup language, like HTML, XML, and SGML. (Note that AbiWord's native format is (a variety of) XML.)

These concepts make use of the computer characteristics of the computer (that is not expressed as well as it should be) instead of treating the computer like an electric typewriter.

The three concepts overlap or support each other

This comment is not focused strictly at this thread, I think anyone teaching an office suite should be aware of these three concepts, and, if possible, teach a word processor that uses these concepts, or failing that, teach that these concepts exist in some word processors and provide a preview of their usefulness.

Thanks for the opportunity to evangelize, hope this is helpful to someone.

[ Parent ]
Office Suites -- They are not all the same (3.00 / 1) (#54)
by rhkramer on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 10:50:33 AM EST

The previous comment was my first post to Kuro5hin. Even though I edited it before I posted, I realized it needed more editing. I am posting this and intend to try to delete (or moderate down) my original post. If I can't moderate, I would appreciate if anyone who can moderate would moderate my other post down. (Thanks! I still have slashdot on the brain, even though I only ever posted there once.)

A small comment re the similarity of office suites, word processors in particular.

First a disclaimer: I haven't used much besides Word (97), AbiWord, and KLyX lately -- it's been a long time since I used WordStar and since I refused to use WordPerfect.

The following concepts are important, and people who learn to use word processors with these capabilites are more valuable than people who don't:

-WYSIWYM (What You See Is What You Mean), implemented by styles in Word and AbiWord (even though they would not claim that, and even though AbiWord styles are not ready for prime time yet) and by "environments" in KLyX and LyX. In general, this is the concept of typing text and "declaring" that it is a heading, body text, a table, etc., rather than formatting each heading manually. In some cases the editing is done in a WYSIWYG environment, but it can also be done using a markup language and a plain text (or non WYSIWYG) editor.

-Collapsible outlining (called collapsible outlining in Word, but similar capability available as "Online View" (Word 97), and in KLyX, called, I think, Document View. By the time AbiWord is finished, similar capability will exist.

-Markup language, like HTML, XML, and SGML. (Note that AbiWord's native format is (a variety of) XML.)

These concepts make use of the computer characteristics of the computer instead of treating the computer like an electric typewriter.

The three concepts overlap or support each other

This comment is not focused strictly at this thread, I think anyone teaching an office suite should be aware of these three concepts, and, if possible, teach a word processor that uses these concepts, or failing that, teach that these concepts exist in some word processors and provide a preview of their usefulness.

Thanks for the opportunity to evangelize, hope this is helpful to someone.

[ Parent ]
Tech education... (2.70 / 10) (#7)
by 11223 on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 02:03:32 PM EST

should be treated like a vocational school, rather than a college topic. Perhaps local universities can run IT programs, with intro classes taught to high school students, so that students get exposed to the trade of IT. (It's not really the same thing as a CS degree. I've seen many incompetent IT people with CS degrees, and the best IT people with no CS degree.)

And, for pete's sake, stop overtly trying to get kids hooked on computers. It's like feeding crack to a hooker - kids already spend too much time on them. Just give them a good basic education (with the 4 R's), and let them learn about the IT trade just like any other trade.

The dead hand of Asimov's mass psychology wins every time.

the 4th "R"? (2.66 / 3) (#8)
by Arkady on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 02:27:13 PM EST

I'm familiar with the "reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic" 3, but I've never heard of a reference to 4. What's the 4th?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
The 4th R (2.00 / 5) (#33)
by kjeldar on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 08:21:09 PM EST

It's RESPECT, you snot-nosed slacker punk!

[ Parent ]
You what? (3.00 / 2) (#55)
by Arkady on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 12:04:37 PM EST

That's an interesting idea. It's certainly _not_ something I want scool's trying to inculcate, since that always ends up in the "you will respect me bacause I tell you to" water so often frequented by drill seargents and insecure fathers.

Respect can only be earned.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
Snot-nosed slacker punk! (1.00 / 1) (#63)
by kjeldar on Sun Nov 12, 2000 at 12:01:53 AM EST

Seriously, I've often heard respect referred to as the fourth R. I remember being told in high school that "you will respect my authority" many a time. This was before Eric Cartman made the phrase ridiculously hilarious.

[ Parent ]
Not just for vocational schools (3.75 / 4) (#11)
by woofbot on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 02:52:38 PM EST

Unfortunately, its getting to the point that you can no longer make computers an aside to a students standard curriculum. Many colleges these days are expecting students to have a certain degree of computer competancy when the enroll. Unless they have a computer at home and are encouraged to use it, then their only alternative is to pick the skills up at school.

[ Parent ]
Think holistic; IT as means, not goals; ethics (3.83 / 12) (#9)
by jabber on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 02:42:51 PM EST

Don't let the computer, or worse still, a particular software package, become the focus of the curriculum. This will do your students a dis-service in the long term. As many others have suggested, focus on other, more traditional, fields of study. Don't teach competence, but rather insist on excellence. Introduce the computer, and technology in general, as a tool for solving the problems of the 'real world'.

For a real challenge, make sure that the educational system is truly aware of the psychology of the student experience. Work hard to prevent the peer ridicule that too often results from academic excellence.

As with any tool, make sure that the students are taught how to use a computer safely and effectively. Just like any tool, technology can do damage. Instruct your students in the disciplined use of the tools at their displosal, and make clear the consequences of mis-use.

And for God's sake, don't give them power-tools too early. Teach them to swing hammers before giving them pneumatic nail guns. Teach them spelling before giving them a spell-checker.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

Start early (4.75 / 12) (#10)
by gleef on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 02:46:51 PM EST

Start early. Make sure solid math basics are learned in grades K-6. Some teachers seem to try to convey the idea that "math is hard", particularly to girls; identify them and make them stop or leave. Make sure students have opportunities to use computers during K-6, but don't base the math or science curriculum on them. Kids need to learn how to do it with pen and paper first. Don't be afraid to have standards and goals and stick to them.

Grades 6-8 are key, the students are now more able to handle more complex topics, and they should be expected to. In order to make a serious go at tech education in high school, students should have the following FIRST, before they even get to high school:

  • Literacy & reading comprehension
  • Solid grounding in Arithmetic
  • Exposure to Algebra and symbolic manipulations
  • Exposure to some science: not necessarily hard equations, but scientific observation
  • The scientific method, how to use it and what it's good for
  • Exposure to logic, both boolean and predicate
  • Basic computer literacy
  • Scientific calculator literacy

Considering how many people get out of High School without the above, you probably have your work cut out for you making sure they get INTO high school with these skills.

Once they're in high school, things are a little more straightforward. Make sure they continue developing reading, math and science skills, and offer a variety of technical electives that they can pick and choose from.

Yes, logic is very important. (3.75 / 4) (#25)
by nogin on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 05:09:42 PM EST

I believe that's it's very important to tech logic and logical ("scientific") style of resoning. It's amazing how many people in US are almost incapable of resoning logically.

[ Parent ]
Logic and Math!! (4.16 / 6) (#28)
by mingTmerciless on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 05:20:44 PM EST

Aaaggghhhh! My life has been immeasurably impaired by the fact that my math teacher made me *hate* math! He routinely (I had him for several years) based *final* exam questions on things like the current jersey number of sports figures that I'd never even heard of! I'm still trying to catch up from that disaster....

Thank god I picked up logic on my own.

Math and logic are priceless. Don't ruin them for kids.

[ Parent ]

Agreement and supporting anecdote (3.60 / 5) (#34)
by kjeldar on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 08:48:13 PM EST

I could not agree more. Not only will a poor teacher's students not learn the curriculum, they'll learn to hate the subject in general.

I've been scarred for life by a terrible eighth-grade algebra teacher. We'll call her Mrs. R. I got a little behind in her class, and once I realized I was in trouble and asked her for out-of-class help, she *refused* me, saying that I should have already learned the material by that point. Sadly, I was too naive then to realize how royally fscked-up Mrs. R's assertion was. I have no trouble with abstract mathematics, complex logic, n-dimensional visualization, and other similar 'thinking skills'... but to this day, I still uncover problems I have with basic algebra skills, and I sincerely believe it's because a certain eighth-grade algebra teacher taught me to hate math.

Thanks, Mrs. R.

[ Parent ]
Information Technology Education (2.50 / 8) (#12)
by rvvsab on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 03:12:03 PM EST

Read your post with interest. Our virtual school in Alberta, Canada works with 300 students who access learning through internet, email, and chat rooms. Teachers provide instruction through online projects and live chat room tutorials including some with voice transmission. As we have no physical school, all students receive virtual instruction in core academic courses,and in option cousres such as html, word processing, work place technology, and spread sheets. Our students gain experience with a variety of applications. As a result, students have advanced IT skills when they leave our school. Also, parents are very pleased with the results. Please look at our website www.rvvs.com for more information.

Is this an ad? (4.00 / 1) (#39)
by THEWeirdo on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 10:45:38 PM EST

This comment sounds like an ad. And judging from your username, it seems quite possible that you were created just to advertise for this school.

Still, your comment does add a little to the discussion, so I willn't rate it down.

- THEWeirdo

"Better paranoid than sorry" -- Me
[ Parent ]

Start Early, and Let Them Tinker! (4.00 / 10) (#14)
by Matrix on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 03:32:07 PM EST

Start the students early, and expose them to as wide a variety of systems, philosophies, and languages as you can reasonably hope to. Give them some experience with Linux/UNIX and NT, OO languages and functional languages, text and graphical interfaces. But also try not to rush them or skip over things. And don't focus on teaching specific tools or language variations, but on general concepts and philosophies. Three years of high school should be enough to do this, I'd hope... I think it would've been for me, if the CS teachers hadn't wasted so much time.

Another good thing would be to have a computer club, for a slightly more relaxed environment where students can tinker with things without worrying about grades. Have club projects or something, like administering a server on the net for a couple of months, or writing some software (or a patch for some software), or "taking apart" some Free Software, or a programming competition (one of the organized ones), or something like that. The computer club when I was in high school was fairly simple, and we didn't do anything like that, but it was still fun. Let the club members tinker with stuff.

This is basically my wish list for what the CS stuff in high school should've been.

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

Vendor-specific == Eeevil (4.60 / 10) (#15)
by Mr. Excitement on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 03:32:42 PM EST

Never, ever lock students into a vendor-specific curriculum, if you can help it.

Last year was in my high school's Cisco-sponsored networking class, and frankly, it stank. The entire curriculum is simply a shameless plug for Cisco products.

Also, avoid overhyping or glorifying technology-related courses. Students who are inclined or interested will take these classes on their own, if the courses are any good. Excessive hype only attracts students who have neither interest nor aptitude for the subject. (The Cisco class was swarming with kids who consistently refused to learn, yet continued to hold starry-eyed dreams of taking a high-paying job right out of high school as long as they cram at the last minute for the CCNA exam and get their magic Cisco certificate (which presumably would enable them to get a high-paying job with no skills whatsoever, except the ability to parrot phrases from the cramming materials!).

Finally, and this probably goes for all classes, not just tech-related ones: you cannot force someone to learn!

Our networking class became regimented in the second year (the first year of the course was great! Of course, that was before the hype, and the budget cuts, etc.), and all activity on the computers except working on the curriculum was banned. Interest in the course plummeted immediately, and the computers, the teacher, and the course no longer seemed like tools for learning. They seemed useless, our enemies.

It seems to boil down to this: if you want schools to succeed, whether in teaching technology, competence, literacy, or even allowing students to retain their natural love of learning, you've got to completely rethink the way schools operate.

As it stands, administrators seem content in ruling from on high, and commanding the students to learn, rather than getting them to want to learn of their own volition. Maybe it's a control issue, maybe it stems in part from wanting everybody to succeed, but this attitude is making high schools fail nationwide.

Forcing students to learn, or jump through hoops for grades which represent a numeric abstraction of one's ability to play by the rules, is akin to a government deciding to pay off its debts by printing more money, or building pyramids faster by whipping the slaves a little harder. It's the wrong approach, and it's antithetical to achieving any meaningful progress.

1 141900 Mr. Excitement-Bar-Hum-Mal-Cha died in The Gnomish Mines on level 10 [max 12]. Killed by a bolt of lightning - [129]

Pay Teachers More (4.27 / 11) (#16)
by kbob on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 03:35:09 PM EST

Many of the comments so far are good. But they focus on specifics of a new curriculum. There is a more basic problem that you need to address, though

That problem is that public school teachers in most states are so poorly paid that they're basically doing volunteer work. Industry is willing to pay competent, technically trained people at least 3X what the public school system pays, so the schools only get people who are (a) selfless saints who give up lucrative careers to teach or (b) unemployable in industry.

So introduce a plan to get teachers' salaries, especially math, science, and computer teachers' salaries into the competitive range so that you can attract good people in numbers that will make a difference. If your governor is serious about improving your state's economy for the next generation (and not just looking for a PR play), this is a crucial step.


The best tech education has little to do with tech (4.18 / 11) (#17)
by gaudior on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 03:40:49 PM EST

As has been stated here already, focusing on computers in education for the purpose of employability misses the point of education. We would be far better off, in many ways if our educational focus went back to the basics:
  • Basic literacy
  • History
  • Logic
  • Art
  • Science

Employability, over the long term depends far more on a person's being able to think clearly, solve problems, and communicate with others than it does with knowing the latest technology to come down the pike. It might seem oxymoronic, but the more valuable education in technology may be that which is slightly behind the cutting edge. It avoids concentrating on technology which may not have legs, and focuses on the underlying skills needed to use any technology.

A few basic technology skills should be taught:

  • Keyboarding.
  • Basic hardware principles. (CPU/RAM/Storage/Network)
  • Basic algorithms (I would suggest Perl, or BASIC)

I am far more useful to my employers if I can adapt quickly to the changing world if I am able to think on my feet, and understand a wider world.

Basic algorithms - functional programming. (3.75 / 4) (#26)
by nogin on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 05:12:00 PM EST

I am not sure that teaching "basic algorithms" in Perl and/or Basic is a good idea. I think that if you want to teach kids basic programming, you should try to expose them to different styles of programming - both imperative and functional programming. I would thing that it may even be better to start with functional programming.

[ Parent ]
Re: Basic algorithms - functional programming (4.40 / 5) (#29)
by dreamfish on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 05:35:56 PM EST

Starting out programming in functional languages is an interesting idea. It reminds me of the maxim that those who were brought up in imperative programming 'approaches' take a long time to really understand and think OO and even longer to get to grips with the functional paradigm. Hence a number of university CS courses I know teach LISP early on.

If you think teaching FP is an 'unworkable luxury', imagine where we would be with an entire generation brought up on only Visual Basic ;)

[ Parent ]

You're right, except.... (3.33 / 6) (#27)
by mingTmerciless on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 05:15:23 PM EST

You're correct in your assessment of education, except that nobody seems to care.

...at least, that's my interpretation of things, given the preponderance of worthless "certificates" like the Office User certificate, etc.

People don't want actual solutions, since they're a pain in the ass to implement. They want quick easy fixes that can be categorized, labelled, and neatly filed away in a corner somewhere for someone else to deal with.

They want a bumper-sticker, not a book.

The employers are going to want some sort of mechanism that allows them to hire/fire people without having to think about it -- a simple checkbox would be optimal. The State is going to want something that costs nothing, and can be slapped on as many political resumes as possible.

I guess I'm just cynical, but real solutions require real effort, and nobody wants that. They want an MSCE or the like. A simple certificate that absolves them of the need for independent analysis, lets them rest easy on the fiction that someone else has taken care of things, and generally lets them go back to playing Solitaire without the hassle of dealing with actual human beings.

[ Parent ]

The State of the World (2.50 / 4) (#32)
by peidran on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 06:23:09 PM EST

Welcome to the Wonderful Wide World of credentialism. It's hard: when you try to tackle any one of a great number of problems in our society, it turns out to be linked to twenty more...

Sorry if that was off-topic...

[ Parent ]
IT education within recent Workforce report (2.80 / 5) (#19)
by dadop on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 04:09:02 PM EST

You might benefit from this recent report: Building a Workforce for the Information Economy

See http://books.nap.edu/html/IT_workforce/.

Good luck.

Thoughts on computers in public schools (4.00 / 6) (#22)
by Caranguejeira on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 04:37:59 PM EST

Some of these random ideas might apply to your situation: There is not really any conclusive evidence that supports the role of computers in _standard_ curriculum. In fact, most recent inquiries I have read come to the opposite conclusion. Your mileage may vary, depending on the type of people you are strying to educate. The goal of a public high-school should not be to create IT-savvy students. Some students simply do not have the interest or aptitude to work in IT. It is important for high schools to have a sufficiently advanced IT curriculum for those students who _choose_ to pursue technology as a career. It is also important to teach basic computer literacy to all students who plan to work at all. Your IT curriculum should not require the latest and greatest hardware and software. It will likely be obsolete by the time your students are ready to enter the workforce. When I was in high-school, 486s were the best PCs that money could buy. We had them in all of our writing labs where we learned computer literacy skills. In the computer science lab, we learned UCSD Pascal on Apple IIes. The concepts learned on the obsolete harware included algorithms and data structures. These ideas are still relevant today. The need for our public schools to have the latest technology is urgent: it is urgent for Microsoft and Sun and Oracle (etc.) so that they can bring in revenues from this new market. Open Source software provides an easy entry to IT skills, provided the staff is familiar with the software. It is difficult to teach something you don't know. Most people only know Microsoft. Open Source can also combat obsolescence from a software standpoint. Plus, you can't beat the licensing provisions. Most of the greatest minds in computer science grew up without the "benefit" of computer labs in their schools. Some of them got started in college. Solid math skills go a long way in problem solving. You can do math on paper. Good IT people create solutions that work. They do this because they understand the context of the problem. They understand the problem because they were able to communicate with the people who needed the solution. They could communicate effectively because they developed social skills by interacting with their peers and superiors during their years of education. The reason that they developed social skills in school was because they weren't tied down to the computer to provide them with everything. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

My idea (2.28 / 7) (#24)
by Dacta on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 04:51:03 PM EST

is for the local government to offer free webserver space to all local businesses, and offer to put them in touch with local kids who are willing to do a webpage for them.

It's important that you don't offer too much free (so you don't compete with businesses), but if you give them domain hosting and 3meg of static space, it would encourage them to be interested. That creates oppertunities for locals to get some experience in "internet technologies" and you can bet some of the companies are going to want to move on from their static hosting.

I don't think that is a good idea at all (2.00 / 1) (#67)
by Nick Driver on Wed Nov 15, 2000 at 10:54:42 PM EST

I'm the network admin for a medium size city government in the southern US. First of all, we're prohibited by law from officially endorsing or subsidizing any local businesses. True, we do give local businesses first preference when we purchase goods and services consumed by the city government, which we do enthusiastically with all due diligence with fair bidding processes and such, but we cannot provide free advertising services for any of the local businesses, which would certainly end up with one of them accusing us of playing favorites for one over another. That's a game we don't even want to think about getting into. Besides, the average city government IT staff generally isn't very adept at Internet technology anyway. Most of them have to resort to buying and running vendor-supported turnkey systems and don't have the financial or technical resources to also be an ISP to the local business community. That's the proper job for the real, for-profit ISPs.

[ Parent ]
Priorities (3.00 / 5) (#30)
by FlinkDelDinky on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 06:07:53 PM EST

What is it that you wish your schools to produce?

I think the first thing you've got to do is adjust the way you teach. There's a difference between understanding and memorization. In subjects like math you must define what you're teaching. Memorizing formulas? Or finding a functional solution to a problem? The first is boring and pretty much kills math for people but the second is math as language, more fun but a bitch to grade cause everyone wants to say the solution in a different way, and there are few problems that can be solved one way.

You'll notice that I haven't said anything about puters. They've got instruction on office suites that are on cdroms. You could teach that in a semester, probably a quarter. As for programming, use one of those 'For Dummies' books like the rest of us. Puters are easy to learn, if the student wants to, otherwise a nintendo is cheaper.

Let the students run a the network (3.55 / 9) (#31)
by hardburn on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 06:14:52 PM EST

You can easily figure out which students are there because they are true hackers and not just because they want a job by firewalling in a part of the network and giving them full administrative accsess to all the machines on that part.

Make sure they have some basic Internet accsess (www, mail, news, ftp, telnet/ssh, etc.). Give them they're own block of class c (or b, if you're school is that big) addresses to play with. Let them administer a full-fledged network with its own web server, ftp server, file server, DNS server, etc. Give them their own domain. If they want to do clustering applications, give them the resources needed to do it. Make sure, too, that they have someone on hand to give them guidance (although not too much guidance; they should figure most stuff out on their own).

Some will want to work on programming projects. Make sure they have computers avialable with compilers (if you must use Windows, just use DJGPP; they should be getting used to a CLI anyway).

Give them plenty of time to do stuff. Study halls, after school, maybe even on weekends, if possible. The computers should run GNU/Linux; theres very little to learn off a Windows system. Provide "Getting started with GNU/Linux"-type books.

Above all, make sure there is no insentive to work on this project other then use of a computer network and the chance to increase their knowledge. This will distill the I-just-want-to-make-$200,000-a-year losers from the true hackers.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

Morals issue (2.50 / 2) (#49)
by FeersumAsura on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 08:51:56 AM EST

Well I wouldn't have trusted myself to run a school network. I'd be intercepting staff mails, blackmailing and all sorts of other fun. Maybe it's because I'm twisted?

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
[ Parent ]
a style that works.....and i'm living proof (none / 0) (#60)
by phoenyx on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 06:47:15 PM EST

i think hardburn's pretty much right on the money, given that i was "educated" in a similar environment.

granted, i attended a special school for "accelerated" students. but, back in '94 we had two labs of windows 3.x machines running terminal emulation (and later netscape and all sorts of other things) to a few linux servers (not because it was "cool" or "hip" like it would be now, but because we had no budget) with a little bit of X thrown in for good measure. they were all on the internet, and the servers had been set up by students (in fact we'd often completely reformat and reinstall a server for fun). granted we spent an inordinate amount of time in there playing networked games of doom and chatting, but we also learned how to run a network, and had the freedom to play with stuff. a few muds and an irc server popped up on our network, all maintained and expanded by students, even if some were eventually shutdown by the school admin.

the school admin network was kept completely seperate from ours, and closely watched to ensure that we weren't messing it up. but as far as the student network, we kept full access to the server down to a few chosen students, who were basically picked by us through our confidence in them, then approved by the school admin.

now i'm a gainfully employed net admin, though granted there was that stint in college as a history major ;). it's a system that works, it keeps the kids who really wanna get in there and learn because they like it there, but the work level of it drops the rest off, or relegates them to "just a standard luser", as we used to say there.

[ Parent ]

teach them how to learn (3.50 / 6) (#35)
by enterfornone on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 09:05:34 PM EST

Once you get past basic maths and literacy, most of the stuff you learn at school is useless crap you are never going to use again. What schools need is a well stocked library on a variety of subjects, net connections that can be freely used etc. The need to be taught how to research. I work in IT and know people who can set up complex WANs but who cannot find information on trivial questions that can be anwered in 5 seconds using google ("do wristwatch MP3 players exist?" was one that was asked yesterday). And the need to be encouraged to learn things they are interested in and not the crap that the school system forces them to learn.

efn 26/m/syd
Will sponsor new accounts for porn.
Conceptual vs. Practical education... (3.80 / 5) (#36)
by flieghund on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 10:23:07 PM EST

I cannot directly comment about an IT education, but after reading through the other posts, I think my own experience in architecture bears relevance.

I took three years of "architecture" classes in high school -- not counting 1.5 years of basic drafting (ugh). The architecture curriculum consisted of learning how to draw various basic residential plans, elevations, and sectional details. At the time, I liked it, though I had the feeling I was missing something. I just didn't know what to really expect, and I was learning a lot about how a house is designed and built.

When I got to college, I began a "real" architectural education. A lot of history and theory, simultaneously presented with a lot of design. And it basically had nothing in common with my high school education, save for the basic nature of drawing buildings.

The reason I'm posting is this: a lot of the posts I've seen have emphasized theoretical knowledge over practical knowledge. I'm not saying this is a bad thing, but at the same time, it is only useful for the few students who are good at applying theory. While theory is very valuable, a large element of practical information is even more valuable for the majority of students, for whom "theory" is meaningless. My high school architecture classes taught pretty solid practical information -- just about anyone in the class could have gone out and designed a simple single-family house. But ask them to design a multi-use retail/office/apartment building with a stack of environmental issues and a long list of user requirements, and they'd be lost. But boy, their little houses would rock.

I guess what I'm driving at is this: while it is bascially good to teach theory (the whole "teach a man to fish" analogy), you'll be wasting a lot of students' time if you don't teach them practical skills. I'm not trying to flame here, but do you remember the people you went to high school with? Do you think it would be easier for them to learn how to respond to a vendor-specific problem, or learn how to respond to the problem from a general standpoint? (Say, troubleshooting Microsoft Word, versus troubleshooting word processors in general...)

Now, I would say all bets are off if you can control which students take the class. In that case, go with theory all the way. But from my own recollection, school systems want to see practical results from education, even if theoretical knowledge is ultimately more valuable to students.

One last thing: which path you choose (theory, practicality, some mix of the two) will ultimately depend on what knowledge you want the students to take away from the class. My high school's student body came from the lowest socio-economic neighborhoods in my home town. Even though something like 80% of the graduating students went on to secondary education, more than half of the incoming freshmen didn't make it to graduation. The remaining 20% who made it but didn't continue on to college, et al., relied on the skills they picked up in elective classes to make a living after graduation. (Shameless plug: something I was involved in at its beginning is now turning a good profit.) Though I was the only one in my architecture class to pursue the same in college, I seem to recall a couple of others who got jobs as CAD jockeys.

Argh. I was hoping the relation between architecture and IT would be fairly clear, but I see I've made a mess of it. I hope you all can get something useful from this.

Using a Macintosh is like picking your nose: everyone likes to do it, but no one will admit to it.
Programming or Web development classes (3.00 / 3) (#37)
by Cnote on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 10:33:29 PM EST

I think that a great place that high schools could really improve in is the availability of well qualified teachers to teach some sort of programming or web development class. Granted, many students will go out on their own and create their own homepage or learn how to program, but that is not the majority. When I was in high school I had to go to the local college to learn programming because there weren't any programming classes offerred in my school. My first language was C++, and I think that is a good place to start with many students. I wouldn't just focus on the needs of IT here. There is a great demand for people with full blown Computer Science or Computer engineering degrees. If you can initiate a program to get just a few more kids interested in that field, it will pay off big for them. IT certainly isn't the most exciting of fields to go into, but CS and CE degrees will allow young people to go and do whatever they want. There will also be students who just aren't ready to learn programming at this age, but this is where a good web development class can come in. I would think that many creative students who are interested in art and graphic design would really benefit from an early exposure to structured web development. Over the course of a semester students could start a webpage of their own, learn the problems associated with maintenance, and possibly learn some programming to do some cool stuff with their page. This would be a great way to get students who traditionally don't like computers that much to get interested in them. Well, that's my 2 cents.

My suggestions (2.60 / 5) (#38)
by brad3378 on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 10:34:08 PM EST

Wow, What a great topic for me to post my first message at this cool website.

My Dream would be to see more efficient use of our resources. What are text books selling for now-a-days? Multiply that by the number of students in your state, and the average number of books an average student needs, and it's easy to see that the money adds up quick. It may be optimistic, but I would like to see a day when interactive learning websites replace most of our textbooks.

Textbooks suck because:
They're expensive
They wear out
Difficult to update / correct
You can't draw in them.... Okay, you can't draw on a computer, but you can easily make printouts on a computer.

I don't think that teachers should ever be replaced, but with the right technology, learning could be much more efficient. What I forsee is a website accessable from any school in the world. Teachers would have a special password protected account to monitor student performance. Grading could be done through the website. Classes could range between 1st grade reading classes with audio questions, interactive 5th grade spelling tests, to College level Calculus classes that concentrate on your weak spots.

I once took a Perl Programming class on an interactive website now called SmartPlanet.com It was Awesome! I could even copy and paste the website's code directly into my webpage, and then tweak it a little.

Although I think websites like SmartPlanet.com are great, I'd much rather see these sites open to the public for free. There's still a lot of things that I'd love to learn throughout the rest of my career, and there's also a lot of things that I could help teach others. If there was an open source movement to support teaching Via a website like the one I just suggested, I'd be the first volunteer.

If one exists, please let me know!

What's wrong with textbooks? (3.50 / 4) (#46)
by Burb on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 06:29:44 AM EST

Textbooks don't suck because:
  • They're cheaper than computers
  • With care, they can last longer (or last longer than it takes for some IT equipment to become obsolete)
  • You can draw in other books, the ones with blank pages in. They are called Exercise books.
  • They never crash
  • They have zero running costs.

If textbooks are teaching principles and concepts they won't get obsolete too quickly. Use online manual pages for tech details and updates.

[ Parent ]

Technology as tool (4.75 / 4) (#40)
by DeepDarkSky on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 11:07:53 PM EST

The first thing I thought of, which I'm glad to see about half of the people who posted comments seem to agree, is not more education focused on teaching about technology. Fundamental education is not grounded in technology but some basic skills. Quite frankly, for me, I believe the function of K-12 for most people/regions is about teaching students to communicate, #1 skill in my list of priorities. I believe that only in college are students really taught how to think. This may not apply to all cases, but I believe the majority of schools in America (and indeed, the world) function this way. Students are taught the body of knowledge that forms the foundation of a useful and functioning individual in society today. The reason why we have national guidelines in education is because we as a society need to align the language and knowledge of the future generations so that they may function in cooperation.

Technology will merely be tools to help that happen. Technology, especially Information Technology, is about communication. It's about increasing the interface, the interconnections, the exchanges of all the people within the society.

If we focus too much about teaching specifics of technology, we are merely treating IT as vocation - something you could certainly offer in a vocational school or (and perhaps I'm overly and inappropriately biased) community colleges. We have to focus on teaching traditional subjects in school that are so crucial to critical thinking and effective communication. The only thing relating to technology that will be important is to make it so that students are surrounded and familiarized with technology, rather than isolated from them, for this thing that we call technology is what enables all of us to freely exchange our ideas and to communicate our thoughts more than ever before in human history.

If you want to generate techies, just form some vocation oriented institutes that will train people the necessary skills they need to perform their jobs. But the future of society will always depend on grounding the education in critical thinking and effective communication.

I am gratified to see that so many people agree that teaching technology in and of itself is not the right answer for our educational system.

It must start sooner! (3.00 / 4) (#41)
by locutox on Mon Nov 06, 2000 at 11:27:50 PM EST

I don't some people would agree with what i'm about to say, but i believe it go be insightful. Currently I'm in Year 9 (i don't know what it is in america, but say it's for people generally 14-15 years old). During this year I have had 2 Computer Studies teachers. The first teacher is Mr. Prusard. He empahises fully on "pratical" experience. I reckon I've only read about 1 chapter of a text book this year. The only time we aren't on the computers is when there is a test on. During that time he gives us questions that are similar ones to the test, and I can usally get a score of about 99%. For third term I had a different teacher. All we did was copy from the textbook and at test time i got around 80%. I big difference I reckon. I think computer studies should be taught differently then with normal classes. When you leave school into the workforce what will be more important? Knowing who invented the first computer and how it works of knowing how to type on a keyboard? Personally I never really needed to touch on my typing skills but alot of my friends do. Without the pratical experience we got with our first teacher they would still be computer frigid. Think about it, Using Computers and getting a brief summary of notes on what the test is on. Or reading out of textbooks all the time and never getting any experience. For the first year atleast it should be the first way and maybe once the students have some skills they should be taught using textbooks once they've mastered the basics of computing. It must start early!

Hmm year 9. I remember being that young. Once... (3.00 / 1) (#48)
by FeersumAsura on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 08:48:39 AM EST

While I agree with many of your points you needed to include more information. Specifically the operating system and software. As a systems engineer (the best of both worlds, electronics and computer) I've met people who have recieved certificates proclaiming them computer literate because they can use MS-Word.
I believe that people can be taught to use computers by being taught in a hands on style. However, you can never master computers if you do not understand the theory behind them. I'm not just talking about what RAM is. I mean the basics, how registers interact and what a bus is. Being able to use Word or Excel is irrelevant. If you are computer literate the fundamentals are so similar it will be a matter of minutes before you become reasonabely proficent. Even switching from a Word to Vi takes only a half an hour. This half hour will teach you the basics of copying, pasting and searching.
The reason you probably got a higher score on the practical test is due to difficulty. Practical computer tests are notoriously simple as GUIs have simplified many systems to the point of uselessness. Theory takes real understanding and dedication. Typing skills are always necessary, how can your become the next guru if your typing is as slow and crufty as Windows?
Starting early is not necessary as anyone can learn to use a computer. Teaching people maths and english <replace w/correct lang> to a high level is more important. Things like computers can come later.
BTW I don't think you're really old enough to remember Commodores when they really existed. They were good but not worth publicly proclaiming your alleigance to.

I'm so pre-emptive I'd nuke America to save time.
[ Parent ]
Standard curriculum (4.33 / 6) (#42)
by scriptkiddie on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 12:41:50 AM EST

I think technology education in general would be greatly aided by having some sort of a standard curriculum. While I don't believe in "scripted lessons" for classes in which there's some kind of standard certification, 99% of technology teachers are completely incompetent and really do need some help. I'd recommend spending a few dozen hours to write up a draft: start with hardware, talk a bit about desktop apps, then progress to basic programming (perhaps in Python-it takes about 5 minutes to learn). Be sure to set things up so the students who already know something can skip straight to more advanced material. It really doesn't take very long to create such a course - the only tricky part is not making it too complex. Then distribute this code to everybody in your state, perhaps over the Web.

One thing I would strongly recommend doing is setting up a comprehensive plan for keeping the students who really do know their computing stuff can keep learning. If I were you, I'd spend a few thousand bucks on a really nice server, and give shell accounts to students and teachers interested in using Unix. One machine is enough for several thousand individuals. By doing this, you effectively separate the "play around" types from the production systems.

Finally, if you have the authority to do so, create some kind of system so that schools all over the state can get free Web-mail access. I once calculated that my school's main server, a K62-350 with 96Mb RAM and 4 Gb disk space, could support approximately 40,000 average mail users using SQWebMail and Qmail (a very efficient combination). Once you've done this, schools are free from providing basic infrastructure and can concentrate on improving the actual education of their students.

If you want to get students to do all this work, be very careful. I'm a high school student myself, and I know how much the attitudes of authority figures influence students' desire to help. Last year, the school had a former special-education teacher with a background in Linux and C. He worked with students to create some very cool stuff, and was never afraid to sit in the back room helping a student on a database system or new distro for two or three hours after school. The new Tech Coordinator is a former MIS manager, with a background in NT (though his knowledge even of NT is scanty; most people who know him think there's no way he could survive in a real commercial environment). His attitude is completely different: he tells students to do this and that, and seems foreign and inaccessable (he's impossible to find during the school day, much less after school). The result is that far less gets done. Anyway, the point is that you need to build a student's respect before he or she will just do stuff for you.

So, if I wanted to fix all the problems in MY school district's tech programs:
  • I'd set up a special IT Center, using grant money obtained to help bring minorities and women into technology (this really IS a problem, and grants to fix it should be very easy to obtain).
  • Using these newfound millions (or at least thousands :), I'd purchase a nice new server and put an MTA and web-based MUA on it. Then I'd advertise this service. See, I've already used Machiavellian manipulation to keep the project from being cancelled; if it loses funding, the whole district loses its e-mail!
  • Now I'd comb the schools for the best and brightest tech students, and get them together in a room. I'd have them create a model curriculum. Give them free food in return; they'll like that :).
  • Apply the curriculum, instantly fixing dozens of extremely poor tech programs throughout the district. This includes making a disk image for client labs and setting up a purely educational server for student use.
  • Now that we are more thoroughly entrenched, weird stuff becomes possible. I'd bring in some smart students who've learned how to program database apps, and start rebuilding the central server with all sorts of nifty custom stuff. Teams would create Web sites for individual schools, while others would work on virtual-classroom systems and other neat things.

Of course, I'm just a student - albeit one who has helped teach a basic computer-skills class and seen what can go wrong. Also, I'm not a very reliable person. My opinions are quite likely to be entirely different tomorrow.

P.S.: if you have some bright ideas, please reply below. I'm very curious!

Kind of like my school... (2.00 / 1) (#65)
by bradenmcg on Tue Nov 14, 2000 at 02:17:58 PM EST

I came from a highschool of around 3000 people.

There were maybe 30 good geeks in the school, seriously. Good people who you could trust to understand the tech and do the right things with it.

We knew linux, we knew NT, we could've setup a killer lab.

Instead we were stuck admining a Macintosh lab.

After 3 years of working in and running a Mac lab and Mac servers, let me be the FIRST to say that Mac labs BLOW. Hard to ghost/clone, hard to maintain, hard to lock down yet still enable freedom... They're ok for an individual, they're ok if they run Linux/BSD. Otherwise, they suck. :-P

We did a WHOLE lot with our website. It was the crown jewel of the geeks because it was the most visible part of the whole operation. The guy who has been doing a lot of the whiz-bang graphics graduated last year though, so I'm somewhat worried about what might happen to it... But feel free to check it out.

I learned a lot about working with fellow geeks in that lab, and a lot about stupid Mac tricks... Not as cool as what you went through, although it did give me some insight as to how it all works.

<leonphelps>Yeah, now, uh, "sig," what is that?</leonphelps>
[ Parent ]

What NOT to do (2.66 / 3) (#43)
by Lance on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 03:26:45 AM EST

I am currently in high school and am doing a CS course. Here are some of the things the course has covered:

How to 'design' a basic web page (using A WYSIWIG tool, no HTML). This basically covered formatting text, inserting graphics, and adding a link.

How to use MS Word. Once again, basic text formatting, etc, nothing too advanced.

How to print text to the screen and get input in QBASIC.

History of computers, and other boring topics.

Need I say more? The teacher has no idea, and the students usually end up playing games (somebody put Quake on their once :). A good computing course needs to allow students who know what they are doing to advance, rather than restricting them and wasting their time. I have put in absulotely no effort whatsoever, yet I manage to get over 90% in every exam.

I think a good course really needs to involve as much practical stuff as possible. It's fun and students tend to learn more that way. They should be taught real-world things. Topics such as programming, but it should be a language that teaches good design principles, not basic or whatever. The inclusion of some UNIX stuff, as some people have mentioned, would also be good too.

Computers are only tools (3.00 / 2) (#44)
by scart on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 03:51:32 AM EST

By focussing on an IT-centric education you are telling all the kids that aren't interested in computers that they are insignificant. Worse yet, you wil have to remove material from other parts of the curriculem to make space for the new content.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that basic computer literacy should be taught to all children at school but subjects like programming, web design or even the usage of specific packages should be restricted to extra credit programs.

You will serve the interests of the children and the community in general far better by teaching children basic problem solving and social skills.

I leave you with the following paraphrased (actually completely hacked apart) quote:"A thousand monkeys banging away at a thousand keyboards will eventually churn out a well-known operating system, but only if they have a million monkeys supplying them with food, entertainment and medical support".

IT and other topics (4.00 / 1) (#45)
by Burb on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 06:21:13 AM EST

I didn't read the initial posting this way - I assumed that the idea was to improve IT teaching, but not necessarily at the expense of the other parts of the curriculum.

[ Parent ]
focus on the basics! (4.00 / 1) (#47)
by rongen on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 08:45:04 AM EST

There are some things they just don't teach in school: The Infinite Monkey Protocol Suite (IMPS).

But seriously, I agree that it's more important to focus on the basic of problem solving and practical skills. Computers can play a big role in this but are not the be all and end all of education. In some cases they might even hamper it by glazing over details that don't "translate" well to the screen.

read/write http://www.prosebush.com
[ Parent ]

Radical methods get radical results (4.50 / 4) (#51)
by leonbrooks on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 09:02:48 AM EST


If you're wondering where I'm coming from, read some John Holt (``How Children Fail'' and ``How Children Learn'' for example) or John Taylor Gatto books. If you want a real eyebrow-raiser, visit the School Is Dead, Learn In Freedom website. (-:

Why this will work

Traditional schooling methods have exactly the opposite effect to the one that they're overtly targetted at. Put in English, what schools do is almost exactly wrong, it squashes intellectual and emotional development at every turn, instead of promoting it. This is why home-schoolers hammer state-schoolers in exams, even with much less (sometimes much less than half) official on-deck ``class'' time. Your first job is going to be getting those students learning for themselves. Recipe-followers will always, at best, produce mediocre results in mediocre jobs. Selling these ideas is going to be harder than actually doing them, but the rewards are great - at least, if you give a damn about your students.

Radical methods for radical results

As well as learning about specific ways of dealing with computers, your students will need to learn how to learn for themselves. One way to start this process is to make the directions deliberately vague, for example, ``Make three computer programs or tools. They can be games, utility programs, a set of detailed written instructions, anything, as long as they have a definite purpose.'' (Later, we can shoot for nebulous purposes... :-)

A ``program'' might be as small as a successful CoreWars model, or might be a whole game by itself. Games can be very useful for ``stealth'' training in logic. Having programs from previous students as hints, starting points or laughing stocks sometimes helps (significant modification of an existing program should count as ``a program.''

The computers will need to be provided with a rich range of tools to play with, and those tools need to be advertised. There should be at least three of everything. What this means is that expensive proprietary software will cost you far too much, only free as in beer will do. The tools themselves must be available for inspection. Not all of the students will take advantage of this, but instructor/helpers certainly will. This means that free as in speech software must be used, as closed software cannot easily be inspected.

The advertising can be as simple as an A1 poster describing each tool, maybe with a couple of screenshots of either the tool or programs made with it, or can be whiz-bang slideshows, animations or walk-throughs; or anything in between or beyond. Work with what you have, and can achieve.

Since intern/apprenticeship programs are desirable but not widely feasible in a commercial sense, use your wannabee interns/apprentices as instructors, mentors and helpers for the next batch of students. Make this a required part of their course. There is something magic about a helper who knows not too much more than the student, and it will force the helpers to practice what they know. Constantly assigning specific students to specific helpers is something to avoid if it can be avoided easily; let the people decide who they belong with at least some of the time.

Some structure is necessary in order to be able to meter ``progress'' for the bean-counters, but as far as possible let the students and their helpers/mentors set their own goals and pace. Open Universities are an interesting and successful model to study.

For extra points, ask the students to write about what they did. This exercises a wide range of skills and includes exposure to word-processors (of which at least three different kinds should be available, e.g. LyX, StarOffice, KOffice, PatheticWriter, AbiWord).

To keep the costs down, ask people to donate older computers to the school. Boxes without PCI are starting to be a little too obselete for useful hardware training, but are still quite effective as terminals or as ``crash-test dummies'' to practice software installs on. Using at least some donated equipment also gives you an excuse to provide basic hardware training, and makes it less painful when some ten-thumbs pulls an option card out of a live computer or drops a hard disk on the floor.

Just my Oz4c worth...
-- If at first you don't succeed, try a shorter bungee

What my HS did (3.50 / 2) (#52)
by JonesBoy on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 09:37:27 AM EST

I came from an excellent HS for computer sciences, and moved on to getting a BS in CompEng. I am now getting my masters.

When I was in Junior High, one of the CS teachers came in for a day and spoke to all of the math classes about the computer track they had avaliable in the high school. In our school, every student had one optional class a semester (two for your senior year). If we wanted to, they told us we could use all of these optional classes and take a computer science track throughout high school. Yes, we could drop out of the track at any time, and they did plan on this. The final course only had about 20 people of the original ~100. Typing, incidentally, was taught in junior high with aincient TRS-80's. They got the job done, and nobody could play games while the instructor wasn't looking.

Here was the course layout (from memory, may be slightly innacurate)

1st year:
Basic programmming (learn the commands)
Basic programming (learn basic algorithms)

2nd year:
Advanced basic (learn basic data structures)
Pascal Programming

3rd year:
Data Structures

4th year:
Algorithms/AP test prep

We competed in several national programming competions (like ACL), ususally going to the nationals. Our school also had a curruculum with electronics that taught basic wiring through radio theory. I had to speak to my guidance counselor to take that track at the same time.

Our computer resources consisted of two rooms with 20 computers in each, networked to one server. All were top of the line macs. We had an older heathkit robot, lego robotics kits, and an IBM PC. We didn't have an internet connection or e-mail. I don't see how either of these can help anyone learn anything. Yes, there are tutorials on the internet, but they are incomplete, short, and occasionally inaccurate. They are only useful if you understand the basics. If you know your pointers, linked lists, and structs, as well as how to use them, then you can pick up (and understand) good algorithms. Anyway, what the hell do you hire teachers for! We never even used a book for the classes. We might have had one, but we never used it. If you needed help, you came after school to the teacher, or you went to the computer club (which did the CS competitions) and we would help you. It was good practice for both people.

My HS really prepared me for college level courses. The teachers were dedicated and knowledgable, and worked with the students. They admitted not knowing things, and sometimes brought in guest speakers to fill in for breaking technology or things they didn't know too well. We were given time to work independently, and graded on what we did, and how we did it. Since we were independent (jr. and senior years) the slower students worked at their own pace, and the advanced students were still stimulated. Yes, it is hard to work a class like this, but it does work.

Feel free to e-mail me for more info

Good luck!

Speeding never killed anyone. Stopping did.
Include teacher training (3.00 / 1) (#56)
by jade on Tue Nov 07, 2000 at 09:48:15 PM EST

In our area, the state has put all sorts of funds into computers and software for the classroom, but as yet have not done a thing to actually train the teachers not only to use the software, but theoretically how to incorporate technology into their teaching. The teachers have been overlooked, with computers being dropped in their lap that they're "magically" supposed to know how to use.

So I'd definately pass along the info that implementing technology must include instruction for the teachers as well. I've seen that the teachers here are so discouraged because the state basically ignored them in this big technology push, that once they have the equipment, they are not motivated to use it, nor make time to learn on their own, which in the long run is bad for the kids.

Language, Music, Tinkering (2.00 / 1) (#57)
by JB on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 12:59:31 AM EST

In addition to the many good suggestions already posted, a future code warrior's development should include language (multiple syntaxes) and music (pattern recognition). Also, a good class on comprehensive design or tinkering. Did anyone mention art? Logic and spatial skills should also be developed.

Most great cryptographers had an early training and aptitude in music. They also either tinkered with locks, or dabbled in magic.

catch them when they're young (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by nickwkg on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 08:24:21 AM EST

IMHO the best way to encourage IT in children is to teach them basic programming at a young age. Something like BASIC or Java would probably do the job if they were encouraged to write programs for fun at school. Just my 2 cents. N

basic programming languages (none / 0) (#62)
by josquin on Fri Nov 10, 2000 at 09:58:13 AM EST

Explore Python, a good choice for a first programming language: it's powerful, platform-neutral (mostly), and easy to learn.

[ Parent ]
Cut costs - installation, other materials (3.00 / 1) (#59)
by Maniac on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 01:47:35 PM EST

This brings to mind "NetDay" from several years ago and continuing (the last one was on October 28th). This is one way to get installations done at low or no cost.

A companion site is the "NetDayCompass" which in some ways is MLP, but the sites referenced have been reviewed by the NetDay editorial team. For a sample, look at the "Best Practices" section where there are several technology plans from schools across the country.

I also agree with most of the other respondents. Technology for technology's sake isn't what our company needs. Emphasis whould be on how to work, and how to learn, not so much the specifics of an application or language. I look more for an appropriate use of technology - if pencil and paper are faster than a computer, use it.

For example, java and perl are perhaps the 10th and 11th languages I've had to pick up. I first learned Basic and FORTRAN in High School which helped in college. But the survey class I had later using SNOBOL, LISP, Algol, and a couple other languages I forgot in '76 helped give me the tools I needed to understand a variety of languages, not just Basic or FORTRAN. That may be beyond the scope of a High School, but something to consider.

How to Improve Technological Education (3.00 / 2) (#61)
by NastyGash on Wed Nov 08, 2000 at 09:10:07 PM EST

Start real early in school teaching critical thinking and the scientific method. Thus we'll avoid nonsense such as "creation science", communicating with the dead, reverse speech, psychics, faces on Mars, the supernatural and other unsubstantiated beliefs. Teach the importance of freedom of thought, expression and access to information and how a healthy democracy and technological advancement depends upon these. Thus we'll avoid internet filtering to "protect the children", laws against reverse engineering and other attacks on freedom. Teach the importance of proper grammar and spelling. Thus we'll avoid the incomprehensible writings of college graduates and the wasted time that miscommunication causes. End poverty and malnutrition and make a good education available to all. Thus we'll avoid the millions of wasted minds that result from these and those minds can be put to work advancing technology. Seek out and encourage the development of individual diversity in thought and talent. Thus we'll avoid cookie cutter education and everyone thinking alike.

Thin the Herd (3.00 / 1) (#64)
by pi0x7a69 on Mon Nov 13, 2000 at 12:38:23 PM EST

I just recently finished my HS's idea of a tech track and here are my major problems. 1. inorder to have a good class you need to have a good teacher. i would have to say that 2/3s of the classes i took had a teacher that didnt know a single thing about the subject he was teaching. EX: my C++ techer was given the job because he used a computer at his house.. 2. get the right equipment. our class on networking was a joke. on the first day of class we didnt have books OR computers. we were still waiting for them to be shipped. and when they finaly did come they were macs. 3. and most important, moderate the students alowed in the class. i was in the advanced networking class my senior year. and about 1/2 the class were people who knew nothing about computers OR networking. this is hard on the teacher and even harder on the kids who are there to learn the advanced subject. i realize that this is not the case in all schools. but most of the schools i have seen suffer from atleast 2 of these aflictions, and in the long run they hurt the students they were ment to help.

Teach /why/ not just /how/ (3.00 / 1) (#66)
by Eivind on Wed Nov 15, 2000 at 06:46:54 AM EST

I've been giving this subject a fair amount of thougth. No magic bullets has surfaced, but one thing does seem to me to be important:

Teach people *why* they should do certain things rather than just *how* to do them.

Way too often people end up with really shallow knowledge - they know which buttons to press in Office2000, but they don't know how it all works. Don't try to hide complexity It's better to spend a lotof time on fundamental concepts and get them rigth athan to skim over a huge area so that people think they've learnt a lot, while in reality they know nothing at all.

I belive any CS education should start by teaching people the fundamentals, properly. What is a file ? A directory ? A process ? What variations exist in different systems on these concepts ? (Unix: a file is a collection of bytes with zero or more names, Windows: a file is a collection of bytes, stored on disk, with precisely one name)

It may seem pointless to teach people what a file is, when you migth spend the same time teaching them how to make pretty tables in Excel, but in my experience having a solid foundation to build your knowledge on pays back tenfold.

Thanx (none / 0) (#68)
by mcoleman0923 on Tue Nov 21, 2000 at 01:20:53 PM EST

Thank you all for the suggestions. I found this discussion VERY helpful. Mark

What are your suggestions to improve technology education? | 68 comments (68 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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