“Programming Is the New Literacy”

I ran across this article last evening and felt like it fell into my lap at the most perfect time. This article does a great job of addressing some of the issues we discussed in class Wednesday regarding literacy and computer technology, specifically computer programming literacy. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the article, but I would love to hear what you guys think, check it out: http://www.edutopia.org/literacy-computer-programming

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2 Responses to “Programming Is the New Literacy”

  1. cinnabarhorse says:

    I had a hard time accepting this argument, for several reasons. First, like we were talking about in class, the author employs the term literacy where, as even he acknowledges, simply the word programming, or even programming ability would have sufficed. Adding modifiers in front of “literacy” to make a new buzz phrase seems to be the hot fad so far this millennium, and I really question its effectiveness.

    In addition to that, I also had problems with the multiple sweeping generalizations he made about educated and young people. For example, my jaw almost dropped when I read, “My guess is that the more educated and literate we are (in the tired twentieth-century sense), the more of these [ideas and needs amenable to programming solutions] we have.” I really don’t see the relation between education and programming solutions–uneducated people need to drive and look at maps also.

    He also says that more and more people will be “programming” in the future, but then he gives an example of someone accessing a pre-made program to fit his need for a project. If enough programming-savvy people are creating programs for enough uses, why would the rest of us want to get involved? Which leads to another issue I had with his argument–the assumption that people in the future will have the time to grapple with relatively difficult material when there is only a marginal benefit in their lives. I’ve often contemplated learning Python, but every time I go to learn it, the original program I had in mind to create seems less and less important as I confront the challenge of learning another foreign language. Granted, people in the future may simply grow up “multilingual” in their mother language and several programming languages, but I see difficulties in envisioning this as well.

    The author also seems to assume that computer systems are going to get more and more complex, but I see the exact opposite happening with the popularization of the Mac. The Mac requires only basic knowledge of computers in order to function effectively. If this trend of simplification continues, the author’s envisioned future will probably not happen.

    Unless, of course, like literacy the concept of programming will be expanded to include every manipulation of a machine, which the author is trying to do in this article. In that case, he should be writing about machine manipulation, not programming literacy.

    Another assumption the author makes is that educators should try to teach this new form of programming competency to students. In fact, it is probably the younger generation who will end up teaching the teachers. I laughed out loud at the idea of a teacher attending classes on how to teach Flash to children who probably knew more about it than she did. If this is the case in the future, school will become even more irrelevant that it already is today.

    One final assumption the author makes is that technology will continue to develop unchecked for the next ninety years. Although he treats it nonchalantly, this assumption is incredibly controversial, as anyone informed about the current global energy situation would know. Although economists would have us believe the opposite, cheap energy and rapid development are not guaranteed in the future, nor should they be. Our resources are finite, and our thinking about issues such as the one presented in this article needs to begin reflecting this understanding.

    • Dartagnan says:

      There are a lot of supposition in this article, both on the stand that programming, technology, and the current state of the world which allows it, will continue to grow and advance, and the logical ideas which spring from these. However, allowing those, I think there are a couple of interesting points.
      One thing that I found rather interesting was in the comments section. A teacher posted something about how teachers would not go obsolete, because of tried and true teaching techniques )http://www.teachersfirst.com/sanity-class.cfm). While some of these are particularly creative, they aren’t anything a machine couldn’t be programmed to do. While I do not think machines will take over the thought process, that’s because at this point machines can’t write new codes to fix themselves or make themselves more efficient; in this sense it’s not that we’re superior to machines in our tricks or tools, but only in that we can come up with new ideas, and machines can only respond.
      But in this point the article made a rather good point: coding appears to be the tool of the future. In this case, literacy was meant to be the functional defiinition “Still others expand the notion of twenty-first-century literacy beyond spoken and written language to include the panoply of skills often collected under the umbrella term multimedia.” In that light, I view this article as an example of the future of literacy, as it pertains to teaching. And once that is established, the article seems to operate on two premises: one, coding is good, and kids will do it regardless of whether it’s taught or not. Two, coding is something which, if done in the classroom, kids tend to find instructive. That second point is from a combination of the comments after the article and the article itself.
      But this leaves us with a conundrum- What happens when the teachers can’t teach it? This article seems to present the answer as teachers need more education. But I don’t see how this is possible. The advance of obsolescence is rapid, often every two or three years. Finding, certifying, teaching and then reteaching, are all time consuming tasks. I doubt languages have the same obsolescence time as computer hardware, but the issue is close to trying to teach history of the recent past: you’re too close to know what’s important or not, to have any perspective. In 5 years, which coding languages will be important? Perhaps I’m missing the point, the learning that comes from languages, and in that sense even an obsolete language will have served the purpose of rewiring the brain. But I think that in general the article goes too far. It’s a new set of tools, but the skills, the ideas behind the tools, remain basically the same.

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