I have spent the past several weeks and months trying to a) get to know my new school and b) define a vision for academic computing that complements the goals of the school.
I’ve been doing a bit of reading online (and on dead trees) in an attempt to refine my own idiosyncratic vision into something that is supported by research and generally applicable. I have spent the past few days poring over Will Richardson’s Blogs, Podcasts, Wikis (it came out a couple of years ago: one interesting twist is that I did not intend to return to technology and education after my last experience, and so am finding myself playing catch-up this year).
My initial reaction to his introduction was to cast the book aside in exasperation: he articulated the standard shiny-eyed wonder at the potential for all of these wonderful web tools to revolutionize education, the world and probably the way we make french fries as well. Standard pie-in-the sky futurist-gibber. Groan.
However, that frustration, combined with a recent talk at school by Nicholas Negroponte, Bob Metcalfe and Lars Perkins on the topic “Computer Science is a Liberal Art”, reminded me that the reason we (or at least I) study computer science is because it provides a methodical approach to handling complexity. Academic computing is a complex problem. So, let’s start by defining the problem and then think about how to solve it. Top down design is a wonderful thing.
Richardson prompted me to think about blogs as an extension of scholarly learning. Scholarly work draws on diverse sources, reading each source critically with the intent of providing a analytic and well-supported interpretation or synthesis of the information. If computer science is all done with zeros and ones, then scholarly work is all done in the footnotes. If you think that scholarly works are dry, Edward Gibbon’s footnotes will change your mind, if not your life. Blogs as the outgrowth of annotated lists of links are, at their best, scholarly works — that is, assuming that the annotations are written by someone who has critically examined the links in question and provided a useful analysis, thereby contributing the a reputation-based validation of the information.
Combine these two ideas: a need to think through a complex problem methodically and a blog as a mode of scholarly discourse, and I suddenly have all the reason in the world to blog: I can put together my thoughts under the public scrutiny of my peers, drawing clearly on the ideas of my peers, while trying to work through complex design and logistical problems.
With this in mind, over the next several days I intend to take a serious swing at using this blog as an area in which to get my vision in order. I am thinking most about the desired outcomes of academic computing in high schools: what should a high school graduate be able to do with technology? (And how does this connect to other things that a high school graduate should be able to do?) The bullet points that I expect to expand upon over the next several days are:
I shall, understandably, endeavor to steer clear of identifiable specifics, leaving much of the logistics for my (private) wiki.
Updates: adding links for the bullet points.
Seth Battis December 27th, 2007