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Many Things We Can Do

While riding across the California desert on my way to California CUE (Computer Using Educators), reading several RSS feed captures, and trying to decide upon a topic for my blog contribution from the many CS related events in the news lately, I recalled a fitting quote, "When you don't know what to do, do many things."

I think that's the approach we as technology educators need to embrace, and quickly! There are serious problems in technology/CS education that need solutions. We scratch our collective heads because we are not sure what to do to solve the problems of falling enrollments, to reverse popular CS misperceptions, and to motivate students to look at opportunities in technology.

A few recent reports in the news offer motivation and a source of ideas for some of the "many things" we can do.

The $787 billion stimulus bill, signed into law last week includes $650 million for existing educational technology programs and opportunities for additional funds for improved broadband access for rural schools as well as other dollars identified for educational technology. In a recent article in Education Week magazine, Keith R Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, said "If you think this is the time to get ahead of the curve and show that educational technology can be creative, then there are opportunities. If we don't do this, than shame on us, and we're going to get rolled over."

So what can be done "ahead of the curve" in your classroom, school, or district to show CS as a creative solutions for improving graduation rates, re-engaging disengaged students, building relevance into other core subjects, creating effect higher-education articulation agreements?

The second item in my "do many things" list is to vow to meet our clients where they live. The problem we face is the equivalent of what is currently happening to newspapers. The newspaper tossed on the driveway is facing serious circulation problems. Many of their customers are living on the net and that is where they want to get their news. We need to seriously think about where our clients "live."

Our students call the Internet and other media rich environments home. How are we meeting them there in both our delivery of learning materials and the projects they learn from? Ideas for taking our product to the customer include providing a rich online presence for classes with engaging interactive elements as well as a repository of their learning resources. We need to explore how programming for the Web can enliven a CS course while teaching all of the basic concepts plus many more that have real meaning for our "clients." Dan Lewis, Santa Clara University, has suggestions on how to do this in the upcoming May issue of the Voice.

Teaching game development is gaining popularity and seems to motivate at least some of our students. The impact of playing video/computer games is hotly debated. Solid research into both the effects of playing games on learning and into the effectiveness of teaching game design on engaging students in STEM careers would be valuable. The good news is that the Games for Learning Institute, a joint venture between New York University, Microsoft, and other colleges has begun research to discover whether video games (and not just those designed to be educational) can draw students into math, science, and technology-based programs.

Opportunities to teach "real" CS using media including games abound. Scratch, Alice, and Media computation are just a couple. New to the field is XNA programming, a natural advanced step in a comprehensive CS curriculum. Many of the opportunities to include game and media development are free and worthy of exploring.

So if you don't know what to do, do many things!

Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice

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