Translating Ed-Tech Issues Outside Education Circles

A look at some of the responses to my post on Tuesday about requiring all college students, not just CS students, learn to code.  It's a good reminder of the ways in which we (or at least I) often fail to "make the case" for education technology issues when talking to non-educators and non-technologists.

January 12, 2012

I'm fascinated by the reactions to blog posts, whether those reactions occur in the blog's comments or whether they're on the various social networking sites where a link is shared. As someone who earns a living writing online and is very interested in engaging with readers, these reactions matter to me (and not just because readers are the first to catch my typos, something I really hate to have happen). But I'm often surprised by what elicits a response from people. Sometimes the posts that I feel are the most thought-provoking get no reaction. And sometimes the ones I feel are the least interesting get the most interest. And sometimes posts that I think are thought-provoking get a reaction that I didn't expect.

My post on Tuesday, "Should All Majors (Not Just Computer Science Majors) Learn to Code," was a case in point. Considering all the discussions lately about the importance of STEM education, about college graduates struggling to find work, about the booming tech industry, and about the Code Year marketing campaign, I thought that the question about adding CS as a college requirement was an interesting one to consider.

In fact, I thought it was a no-brainer, although I was prepared for some resistance, particularly as (1) I used "code" in my headline but was really talking in the body of the story at least about more basic, general CS knowledge and (2) requesting new college graduation requirements is always fraught with controversy. I also anticipated a fair amount of pushback from those who think programming skills simply aren't necessary.

I didn't get much response in terms of 1 or 2. But I did hear from a lot of people who were opposed -- really opposed -- to requiring coding in college. What surprised me was where those comments came from.

There are only 2 blog comments here on IHE, both saying "yes," some programming should be required. There were several tweets in response, again most positive. When I posted a link to the story on my Facebook wall, a couple of friends "liked" it.

But over on Google+, wow, people did not. There are almost 40 comments there, most of them dismissing the idea (and dismissing it quite forcefully, I should add).

The different reactions on the different social networks is interesting. I have around 8,000 Twitter followers, many educators, tech entrepreneurs, and tech journalists. So I can speculate that crowd may be more open to the idea of programming as a college requirement and as a job skill.  I am in almost 20,000 people's Circles on G+ -- thanks in part to being placed on a couple of "must follow" lists shared by prominent techies like Robert Scoble. I'm guessing that many of these people that follow me on G+ are not involved in education or ed-tech. (But I'm just guessing.)

I'm also guessing they didn't actually read the article, but that's a different thing altogether. (Or perhaps it is indicative of how those on Google's new social network respond to content.)

It's actually quite common, I think, for education technology topics to suffer from this failure of translation.  What seems obvious to educators isn't obvious to non-educators.  The same goes for technologists. That failure to get the point across can occur both when ideas (projects, products, services, etc.) are introduced into educational institutions and when they're explained to those outside of academia.  It happens with employers and politicians and parents. And it happens a lot.

(I should also note that many of the loudest objectors to the democratization of programming skills were those who worked in IT. It will "dilute the programming field," one person argued. "Normal folks" don't need to know how to code. Save that for the professionals.)

I do want to return to this idea of requiring college students to take some computer science and (yes) programming classes in another, subsequent post. I have some more concrete ideas of how this might work, what it might look like practically and how it could actually change just that sort of (sometimes) hostile IT culture that you can see boiling in those G+ comments.

What struck me -- other than the fact that I really mustn't have succeeded in writing a good argument in the blog post -- is that there's a lot more to be done on helping translate education and ed-tech issues for those "normal folks" -- whoever that might be.


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