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Tag Archives: Education

The ABCs of Tech Education

25 Jan

Last week, in the wake of Code Academy’s  – “Learn to code in 2012” campaign we asked:  What does digital literacy really mean today?  And what might a Digital Literacy Agenda for 2012 include?

Betsy, our friend at Google, replied directly arguing that “digital literacy” is too narrow a concept – we need to think more broadly about “digital citizenship,” she argues. “Understanding how to write code that builds an isolated piece of technology is like understanding how to read and write, or knowing the ins and outs of a particular subject like Biology. But understanding how the Internet works is like understanding the way society is governed.”  It’s about providing enough digital civic education so that students can recognize why Chinese censorship of the Net, SOPA/PIPA, or debates about wireless spectrum are connected to our fundamental values about speech and communication.

I’m agnostic about whether “digital literacy,” “digital civics,” or even basic “technology education,” is the right term. But, as I watch Mozilla, Code Academy, General Assembly, and many others dive into this topic, its clear there’s a need to continue untangling these concepts.

Last week Bloomberg and Fred Wilson announced the new Academy for Software Engineering, a tech-focused high school in New York. In doing so they intimated that one vision of the school is to develop a tech curriculum that can be exported to other schools in New York.  What might such a curriculum include?

In our view, basic tech education should center around three core concepts: Understanding, Creation, and Critique.

  • Understanding Understanding is about explaining the building blocks of technology as well as the larger ecosystem of institutions in which technologies operate. It’s about enabling students to understand the basic relationships between inventors, tech companies, publishers, regulators, or consumers and the centers of control therein. It’s also about teaching the fundamental “internet architecture” or “digital civics” topics of which Betsy speaks.
  • Creation Creation is about giving students the basic tools and grammar to create and “build stuff” using new technologies. It about raising a generation of “web makers” as Mozilla trumpets. It is also about teaching the fundamentals of publishing in the new media era and the flow of information on the web. Ultimately it’s about giving young people the ability to exploit all the structures and architecture, to have a voice. This is part of democratizing media and technology. Today, creation might be about providing basic coding, mobile app creation, or web design skills. But it’s surely an evolving standard.
  • Critique  – Critique is about enabling students to decipher and analyze both incoming information as well as the communications they create. If teaching coding is like teaching the basics of a new language (ie. basic grammar), teaching critique is like teaching literature. It’s about teaching students to analyze the reliability, perspective, and editorial control in the Wikipedia articles, digital videos, or other web communications they receive.  It’s about enabling students to understand the difference between platforms that are highly moderated or curated and those that are opens. It’s about understanding what’s at stake with anonymous vs. identifiable speech.

It’s clear that in some cases, teaching these fundamentals may require the creation of new high school classes -  i.e. coding class.  But in many cases, it’s more about extending our existing classes in literature, history, and science to cover the technology related stories and topics.

Digital and web literacy is a lot about opening up the black box that is our tech-enabled world so that more people can participate in this world and critique it. Coding alone is about being able to create and modify this box.  It’s clear that the Academy for Software Engineering will likely add a whole host of additional classes on entrepreneurship, design, finance and many other topics.  But if they can lead us and strike even the basics of digital literacy and technology education right, that will be a huge accomplishment.

Building A Digital Literacy Agenda

5 Jan

One of our most popular posts this fall was “Why Digital Literacy,” where we talked about the growing set of thought leaders speaking out about the importance of digital literacy. For some it’s a matter of training the next generation of entrepreneurs and engineers. For others it’s about matching skills to jobs and ensuring basic comprehension of the information ecosystem.

The digital literacy debates are escalating as we head into 2012; but as I listen, it strikes me that few have articulated what digital literacy really means.  What constitutes a digitally literate high school graduate? What do I need to be able to know, make, or understand to be a digitally literate adult?  The most thoughtful piece I read last year was by @betsymas at Google, titled “To learn how the Internet works is to learn civics.”  She emphasizes that teaching students to code is not enough:

Understanding how to write code that builds an isolated piece of technology is like understanding how to read and write, or knowing the ins and outs of a particular subject like Biology. But understanding how the Internet works is like understanding the way society is governed. The architectural design should be taught in high school, the same way we teach about the design of the US Constitution.

Last Friday, as I was returning from vacation, I was amused to hear a network segment titled “2012 – the Year of Code” looping in all the airports. It was filled with catch phrases – “Code is the new Chinese.” “Code is the language of the next generation.” “First we teach math, then we teach code.”

The segment was provoked by the recent launch of Code Academy’s New Year’s Resolution Coding Class – “Code Year.”  At Code Year, anyone who adds his or her email to a website receives free coding classes once a week for a year.

The Code Academy campaign is an awesome initiative, and they’ve managed to sign up over 100,000 people so far.  Still, if 2012 is the Year of Digital Literacy, it’s time to dive in and think about a real Digital Literacy Agenda.  We’ll try to unravel this further in the coming months. For now, I’ll leave you with Mashable’s Code Academy video… in case any of you want to learn how to code… whilst we debate!

Open Platform vs. Open Content. The Big Debate at Educause 2011!

19 Oct

In listening to the announcements by both Pearson Education Inc. and Blackboard Inc. this week, we were intrigued thinking through which might have more appeal to educational institutions.

1. an open and potentially free learning platform – this is what Pearson is suggesting, leaving Pearson to focus on its core content business.

2. a proprietary learning platform through which educators and institutions will be allowed to share content under a creative commons license, allowing Blackboard to focus on its core proprietary software business. Blackboard’s suggestion.

There are several challenges to both models:

First, in order for the Pearson platform to be truly open, it would need to guarantee its long term openness, ideally by making the platform available under an open source license. We also wonder about the extent to which institutions, instructors, and even other content companies will agree to allow Pearson to play an even more central role in the educational content game.If the Openclass vision rings true, Pearson will become not only the dominant provider of educational content but also the central “content filter” for education.  If Openclass were truly open, there would be limited risk as other content providers could compete as well without risking potentially harmful taxes or filtering. If Openclass is not truly open, then there is room for concern.

Blackboard, by contrast, is interested in maintaining the proprietary nature of the platform (its main business). It assumes that an open content model would have broad appeal, adding to the value of the Blackboard platform and making it all the more “sticky.”

Whether schools will trust Blackboard as a vehicle for content sharing is still an open question. If the content will be truly open, then schools can gain a valuable repository of open content that can be used outside of Blackboard as well. This would create a tremendous public asset.

So the contest begins: Open Platform vs. Content. Two of the largest players in education have each placed their bets. Now we’ll wait and see how “open” each is really willing to be…