Thursday, October 30, 2008

Links and Resources: October 30th, 2008

“After bread, education is the first need of the people.”
--Georges Danton
  • I've been participating the Work Literacy online class covering web 2.0 tools for learning professionals. It has been very informative, although I've been behind. I still can't figure out how I can fall behind in self-pace education! Anyway, if you are new to web 2.0 tools and their use in learning I would recommend you peruse the site, check out the many links and read the discussion boards.
  • The ACM CareerNews mailing provided two links on the outlook for IT jobs in a slowing economy. "Wall Street's collapse may be computer science's gain" looks at the prospect of students turning away from finance programs for seemingly safer careers in computer science. "Hiring Survey: The IT Skills in Highest Demand" summarizes a Robert Half study on the state of IT skills now and in the future.
  • CIOInsight asks "Is the IT Profession Recession Proof". I'm guessing that most IT staffers at WaMu are a little worried, but maybe the rest of us are in pretty good shape.
  • Jen at the injenuity blog has made a number of her photographs available for use as slide backgrounds under Creative Commons licensing (see them all here). Jen's day job is in workforce development. She has created a Ning network on that topic here, although it doesn't look to be real active at the moment.
  • If you aren't familiar with Creative Commons licensing I suggest you read their about page to get an overview. In a nutshell, it is a way to attach a "some rights reserved" copyright to your creative works. It also provides a simple way to clear other's content for use on your site, art work, or publication. It's seems like licensing of creative works should be included in all content creation coursework (photography, web design, digital graphics, etc).

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Get with the program(ming)

Did you get a chance to see the Randy Pausch's Last Lecture on KCTS during the recent pledge drive (it has also been playing on KBTC and can be seen on the web here)? Pausch was a professor of computer science who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. This lecture, titled Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams, was given at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2007. It's a funny, yet inspiring look at computer science, academia, football, teamwork, user interface design, Star Trek and one man's journey to achieve his childhood dreams. The 48-year old Pausch died July 25th, 2008. If you have 90 minutes someday, watch the video. You won't be disappointed.

In the lecture, Pausch talks about indirect learning several times, something he calls head fakes. An example of a head fake is how kids indirectly learn really important things like teamwork and sportsmanship when all they thought they were learning was to play football.

Pausch's head fake legacy is Alice, the 3D programming environment that allows kids to build animated 3D stories and videos while introducing them to the concepts of object oriented programming. The use of animation allows students to better understand how they control the objects through the language and it gives them an introduction to key programming concepts. It also appears to be a more inviting introduction to programming to traditionally under-represented segments of our society (see their promotional video here).

Similarly, Alan Kay has been working on Squeak, a programming language based on the Smalltalk language. In particular, Squeak eToys is an implementation designed to help younger kids learn about science and math through modeling and experimentation. This video is another from the TED Talks series, features Kay talking about the educational value of the tools and demonstrating eToys on one of the one laptop per child (OLPC) machines.

I don't know if computer programming is being taught in the younger grades but these guys are making a really compelling case for focusing on it at a much younger age. Even if kids aren't becoming computer science majors, and most aren't, it seems like it offers important head fake opportunities to teach critical thinking, experimentation and what-if analysis. These are skills that are important to people who are working in finance or marketing. Heck, it's a pretty useful set of skills for picking the right mortgage (assuming anyone's allowed to have a mortgage anymore).

So what do you think? I'd like to know if any of the local school districts are teaching programming with eToys or Alice in middle or high schools? Is anyone teaching programming with any language in middle schools or are we all too busy studying for the WASL? Is there an opportunity to reach out to segments of our population that are traditionally under-represented in information technology/computer science?

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Would you like a Certs

In a recent post over at ZDNet, Deb Perelman asks whether IT pro's should have to demonstrate their skills. It appears there is some controversy over at Slashdot (like that's hard to do) as to whether experienced professionals with degrees should have to demonstrate their chops with, oh say, PL/SQL. Deb asks:
Do accountants have to provide the scores from their back-in-the-day CPA exams?
Well no, but they are required to pass a widely recognized, respected, standarized test that demonstrates their base knowledge and must follow-up with documented continuing education credits to maintain that certification throughout their career. We're not just talking doctors, lawyers and accountants here. I think hair stylists have more licensing requirements than the IT profession. In fact, some might argue that without such standards IT doesn't deserved to be called a profession.

Certifications are a subject of frequent discussion here at the AdvisoryBored household. In a recent post Mrs. AdvisoryBored dove into the issue of certifications and education following a Herald column by economist James McCusker. I'm not going to comment further than to suggest that you read her post and the two comments. In addition to teaching, Mrs. AdvisoryBored serves on an independent IT certification body, which gives her far greater insight into assessment, certification and degrees. Having been a hiring IT manager for several years she also understands just how useless the "your check cleared" certifications are to those of in industry.

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