What does it mean to teach computers?

Computer Mess

Today on Sky News, there was a news report talking about the state of computer education in the UK.  They had a computer teacher on (I believe he was the equivalent of a US high school teacher) who made the point that as it stands today, computer education in the UK is worthless.  He went on to describe it as teaching kids how to download apps to accomplish a task.  Wow!  Unfortunately, I don’t have a link to that, but I’ve found a link where the government is making changes to computer education.

Now, I have a BS degree in Computer Science and Software Engineering.  I think that most people don’t have a clue about computers because they have never been taught how to think.  At Marshall, I had a teacher (who was not very good) but he loved to say there was a difference between education and training.  I never knew what he meant until I graduated and was placed in the work world.  I then discovered what he meant.  I found a plethora of people who didn’t know how to do anything unless it was laid out step by step in front of them.  Those people had been trained.  If you forgot one small thing, the people couldn’t think and determine what to do next.

I think that is the problem with computer education in general.  Having a class to teach a person how to use word and calling it computer education is a joke.  Sure, they might come away knowing how to use word…but then they can’t use open office (even though the concepts are 75% or more the same).  They’ve been trained how to use word but haven’t ever been taught how to think about a problem.

In my mind, 50% (or more) of working with computers is nothing but problem solving (perhaps more like 80%).  You have a problem and you have to find a solution.  Then you have to determine how to make that solution work.  Then you have to determine how to implement it and fix problems because you did it wrong.  You see where that goes….more and more problem solving.

Therefore, I think the solution lies in teaching kids less how to do simple tasks and more in teaching them to think.  Sure, you’ve got to teach kids tasks (how to tie shoes, how to write, how to cypher, etc….) but there needs to be a way to make certain computer classes don’t focus on the ctrl+b bolds text in word (or similar concepts in other disciplines).  As I learned from the Mythical Man Month, computer engineering/software engineering isn’t exactly like other disciplines.  Well, it may be; however, software engineering has only been around less than 75 years….people have been building bridges since preRoman times.

The conversation reminds me about this video:

Image from phil g via flickr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *