Computer Science – A Field of Dreams

By Robert Plants

[Editor’s Note: This article was written in response to Bonnie Bracey Sutton‘s call for submissions from selected writers. Bonnie is ETCJ’s editor of policy issues, and the focus of her call was Erik W. Robelen’s “Schools Fall Behind in Offering Computer Science” (Education Week, 7.14.10); WebCite version. -js]

You can’t build it and expect people to come. We cite statistics on what is and what isn’t but fail to dig into the symptoms. We point out initiatives that may influence supply and demand but don’t go on to look at what influences K-12 education that results in the dearth of interest in computer science. In most states, the emphasis lies in producing enough teachers to staff the education that we have. We have an educational system focused on a standardized curriculum, rote memorization, nationalized testing, curriculum standards. Dig a little deeper and you will find that the structure of schooling is about the little red brick building we have always known, grades, classrooms, curriculum, teaching strategies – one size fits all. In many ways, our system of schooling has not changed in 100 years. Continue reading

Gov. Tim Pawlenty: iColleges Are the Wave of the Future


On 10 June 2010, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty appeared on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” One of the topics they touched on was online learning in higher education. The audio clip below is an excerpt from the TV show.

The following are transcripts of key comments by Pawlenty:

  • Do you really think in 20 years somebody is going to put on their backpack, drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keister across campus and sit and listen to some boring person drone on about Econ 101 or Spanish 101? Continue reading

The New Social Networking Frontier

judith_sotir_80By Judith Sotir

The idea of using social networks in the classroom is still outside the comfort zone of many classroom instructors. Sites such as Facebook, MySpace and  Twitter have connotations that many instructors instinctively avoid. They see the pitfalls, but not the value. There are warning flags all over the place. I’ve heard educators say, “If you allow students to use a site like Twitter in the classroom, students will abuse it and just network with friends.” Sure, always a possibility. But if you allow students Internet access on computers, they can always access sites you don’t want them accessing. It all comes down to the control an instructor has in the classroom. An ineffective instructor with no classroom discipline doesn’t need Internet access to fail. Those are the teachers who would not notice handwritten notes being passed around the classroom in the pre-tech days.

We’ve (reluctantly) moved to acceptance of using academic websites in the classroom. Instructors see the value, and students know and like using them. We’ve found the value in YouTube, but have developed Teacher Tube to combat many of the content concerns. Social network sites are still a new frontier. First, instructors are not all that familiar with them. I think every instructor (and parent) should get on the computer and sign up for one or more of the social network sites, if only to know what it is that the kids are doing. One thing is certain, the KIDS are on them, daily, and even hourly. They can access them from classroom computers or cell phone browsers. I have Facebook and Twitter buttons on my iPhone so access takes less than a second. Of course they also let me know via email when someone has added something new to my page. It’s all about accessibility, and for kids, accessibility is like breathing. They just do it. My nephew once said that if he had to go more than a few hours without Facebook he would implode. I honestly believe him.

(Video source: “Twitter for Teachers” by Thomas Daccord, added to TeacherTube on 20 March 2009)

So how do educators use these tools? Tom Preskett in his article Blogs for Education, Blogs for Yourself referenced the Write4 website, which allows one to publish articles, photos, videos, etc. without set-ups or logins. Your work is published to your Twitter account. What’s the value? Easy and fast access. You give your students one site (such as your classroom Twitter account), and give them the ability to access these sites wherever and whenever they wish. You simply tell them to follow you on Twitter. It’s simple and effective because students are there anyway. Will all students actually read your Tweets? No, but not all students will read the homework you assign or even participate in class discussions. But the point is that students are familiar with social networking and use it regularly. And as educators, we have to believe that most students want to learn and want to succeed.

(Video source: “How Do You Use Twitter” by David Di Franco, added to YouTube on 8 April 2009)

I’ve never been able to understand instructors who believe students want to fail. They may not hang on your every word, but they do listen and know the correlation between work and success. Give them something they can use, and they will pay attention. Will they push the envelope? Of course. But that happens with any age group. Case in point: professional development programs. Put a group of instructors into a professional development class and watch them as they stare out the window, play with anything but the prescribed websites on the computer, and even talk and laugh with each other. In a training setting, most professional educators mirror the behavior of their students. The key to success is the same as the key needed to succeed with students: give them something they find useful and they will pay attention.