Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Decline of the Software Age?

Has the software age seen its peak? College grads might be saying so.
Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with ...with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%.*
There are potential market-side reasons these students might be foreseeing the future. We could imagine that all the 'old' industries--banking, airlines, shipping, distribution, law, government,...--have been brought into the desktop and handheld electronic form. The labor demands here out might be more for tweaking than for software architecting, scaffolding, forging.

And the demand for programmers who build programming tools might be declining. Things like DBMS and operating systems, which once cost thousands, are now free and open source for most costumers.

This might be why students are skipping CS school. But I doubt it.

More likely, would-be programmers have already learned more about programming before they reach university than they would while there. Consider a CS major I met at an Carnegie-Mellon function.
Me: "Oh, CS, you say. I do a little bit with computers and software myself. "

"Cool.", she says. "What languages do you use?"

"Mostly Ruby. Javascript, You know".

"Oh", she says. And at this point her eyes fall and she looks at me like I have just slipped off the wheelchair into my bowl of Ensure. "We use", she says only half-apologetically, "modern programming languages.
 "Java. Have you heard of it?"

This is a CS major at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science, the number one such school in the world. She is cute, small, fragile. I really don't want to break her heart.

Obviously I don't tell the young lady that I tried Java in 1994 and found it to be ridiculously disappointing, even in that olden day.

I do tell her that Ruby is of the lineage of AI languages. SmallTalk and LISP. That it is much more friendly to program. That it makes code beautiful and coders happy.

And that she might give it a try.

So here's the point. If you are 20 and want to write software. Really want it, and at least grew up with a computer nearby. You will have found most of how to do it on your own. You'll have found a group of peers online. Some from Pittsburgh and some from Mumbai. You'll have the full development stack--complete with web server, RDBMS, test tools and IDE--on the laptop you sit down with for lunch.

You probably have a number of web apps to your name, and an action game or two as well. You've animated something with ActionScript. Probably wrote an Android app.

The thing is, those are the software of the present, and near past. So I hope students are learning at school the things they'll need for the future. Like control laws for robots. Feedback loops and systems theory. Natural law.

* Generation Jobless: Students Pick Easier Majors Despite Less Pay

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Credit Flexibility--A Powerful Tool

Today I write on GettingSmart (EdReformer) about the real change agent in Ohio--and it's not Issue 2.

Credit Flexibility is a new (2010) law designed to give students many more options in what they learn and who they learn it from. In it's first year, CreditFlex students have chosen to
  • Learn advanced music from a local youth symphony 
  • Learn business and agricultural management skills by growing and marketing popcorn. 
  • Get Physical Education credits outside the school day 
  • Work with edible and medicinal plants and their relation to healthy living (under an International Baccalaureate instructor and professional herbalist). 
  • Learn programming and build robots Research environmental and global issues 
  • Learn Latin from a private instructor outside the public school 
For more examples, check out the news videos and newspaper coverage at Ohio Credit Flex on FB.

Friday, November 11, 2011

At a meeting, today, I offered the maker movement and educational software as two  emerging and parallel forces.

I wonder about the parallel part. Maybe they're more entwined than we might think. Knowledgeworks' institute for the Future certainly thinks so

It's no surprise that when I visited Carnegie-Mellon last fall, labs and classes were filled with students programming soccer robots, cubicle-wandering robots, snake-like robots, self-assembling robots, and more. What's more interesting is the movement of robots, 3-D printers, modified robotic vacuum cleaners, and much more into the home and k-12 setting.

Will it impact how students learn history? Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"The Congress of Ohio...Or Whatever"

The pre-service teacher waiting for her Caribou Coffee meets a friend who gleefully notes that Ohio defeated Issue 2.

In her best whine, she replies, "It doesn't matter.

"Like,... the Congress of Ohio,..or Whatever? It is already working on another law to .....[oppress teachers].

Really. The "Congress of Ohio"?

We can't expect all 22-year-old graduates to have a command of the intricacies of education and administrative policies. university is for learning frameworks of analysis, research skills, calculating and writing, that sort of thing.

But even if you are a music teacher, shouldn't we expect more of the person teaching our children than 'the Congress of Ohio'?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Occupy the Ivory Tower

Have the snows driven out the Occupy protestors?  It doesn't matter; they're in the wrong place anyway.

The protestors, though they have brought attention to issues we all feel, are in one sense fighting yesterdays battle. The bank and car bailouts are over. What they should be fighting is the root ideas that caused those debacles. Ideas and, yes if greed is a vice, then morals.

For that fight they shuold look to the Ivory Towers.

William McGurn takes this on this morn, in What's Your Kid Getting From College?
"The average college debt load is about the price of a new Toyota Prius—$28,100 for those with a degree from a four-year private school, $22,000 for those from public schools."
Which isn't bad, actually.  It's better, in fact, (adjusting for inflation) than I got. And since the rates are low and the return in wages high, if a graduate forgoes the new car and skimps on the dinners out, life should still be far superior to anyone working their way through as a waitress or roofer.

McGurn suggests another question, though. About the non-loan part. The part we as a society pay for them.

With one year at Ohio State budgeting out at $27,000, society will pick up almost $100,000 for the average incoming freshman.

It's fair to ask what they are learning that benefits us all.