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Ubiquitous Computing Gadget To Teach Coding

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the i-know-kung-fu dept.

Education 107

An anonymous reader writes "A distance learning university in the UK has revamped its IT curriculum to attract more students — the biggest change is that budding coders will get a chunk of hardware which plugs into a computer via USB and can be programmed using a language called Sense — based on MIT's Scratch 'drag and drop' programming language. The university hopes this gadget-based approach will encourage fewer students to give up on their studies."

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sounds like nigger shit (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36426856)

to me.

drag and drop? (1)

metalmaster (1005171) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426866)

i dunno if a simplistic approach is really the best way to keep uni students in the game. As soon as things get tougher they're going to head for the hills

Re:drag and drop? (2)

SilverJets (131916) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426990)

Came to say basically the same thing. If the student's think 'drag and drop' programming is what they will be doing they are going to piss their pants when they have to program in a real language with real code.

Re:drag and drop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427214)

Visualizing the flow of control structures and conditions (and even the set of vars in memory) would be good for giving people the concepts that later translate into real code.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

equex (747231) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427640)

Also, people's brains are hardwired to process visual data rather than abstract data, so if this drag'n'drop language is so well designed it actually produces decent executables of acceptable sizes why not take advantage it?

Re:drag and drop? (1)

softWare3ngineer (2007302) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427232)

I've always thought something like this(link below) was a good way to keep students engaged, make it fun, and give students a better idea of what programming was really about. The programming is OO so most of the hard work is done by the environment, students just get a simple list of methods to use. And you could have a giant tank robot battle to the death at the end of the semester. was always told it was too complicated for new programmers.

ps. i have no affiliation with the project other than using it in high school. Just thought it was always a great idea and underutilized tool.
http://robocode.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net]

Re:drag and drop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427242)

If the student's [????] think 'drag and drop' programming is what they will be doing they are going to piss their pants when they have to program in a real language with real code.

You left out the things that belong to the student.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427366)

It's the student's thinker...

Re:drag and drop? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427538)

That appears to be singular, which would not go with a plural verb. Fail.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

TheABomb (180342) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427788)

Clearly, it was his or her think, which served as the totality of the student's actions. If you read the whole sentence, however, the student's supposition is held to prove false when faced with practical, non-academic ("real code") work.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

SilverJets (131916) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428290)

Oh noes! A typo. The farking world is going to end!!!!

Re:drag and drop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427262)

Um, unless you know *exactly* what each component in your computer does, how it does it, how to measure the actual electrical signals on each trace of your motherboard, all *you* are doing is dragging and dropping text into a magical black box and patting yourself on the back about how smart you are. You software types and your misplaced arrogance turn my stomach. Without us hardware monkeys you would be dishwashers.

Re:drag and drop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427426)

Um, actually I'm typing thousands or millions of lines of text into said magical black box (though mine actually isn't black or magical), and hoping to God that nothing's wrong with it, because then I have to hunt through all of the thousands or millions of lines of text for whatever error I might have made. You hardware types and your misplaced arrogance would annoy me if I actually gave a damn. Without us software monkeys, you would be building dishwashers.

It's significantly harder than "drag-and-drop". So get off your high horse and sit on the ground with the rest of us.

Re:drag and drop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427466)

Dishwashers are still useful everyday appliances.... You software types are arrogant because none of what you do has any consequence because you can always rely that the actual people who do understand computers will deliver ever more powerful computers.... to run your magical drag and drop garbage. And your arrogance shows as disdain for the physical. If it wasn't for physical devices, what would run your millions of lines of code? A cat?

Re:drag and drop? (1)

phatphoton (2099888) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428072)

Hmm, hardware yuppies pounding out silicon + electrodynamics + device drivers fall back on dishwashers. Software yuppies fall back on running LolCode on cats...which I hear doesn't have very good documentation. So far as I'm concerned, knowledge (which condenses into code) is fluid and free (in the sense that it doesn't follow laws pf physics; it can be duplicated, created, and destroyed at will, transferred just as easily, and creates and destroys entropy in nearly any temporal or physical system.) Silicon/Hardware on other hand takes work to work with. And you can sell it. For money. Period. Some kid can't illegally download an A4 processor. The same kid could download a man-year worth of code in an instant...or destroy it. Guess who I think has a better career backing... Dishwashers look pretty good.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

Eponymous Hero (2090636) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428242)

Dishwashers are still useful everyday appliances.... You software types are arrogant because none of what you do has any consequence because you can always rely that the actual people who do understand computers will deliver ever more powerful computers....

Wait...what?? Have you developed a computer that works the same or better than modern computers -- without an operating system? Have you managed to replace the entire user experience of computing with machine code? If so, I'd really like to order your black box for internet searching. I'm so sick of browsers. Oh, that black box also has to have functions for creating spreadsheets, writing documents, sending and receiving email, playing popular games, and photo manipulation. also i'd like to easily create animations using your black box. what?? your "black box" is just a collection of transistors baked into silicon? it doesn't do "a single goddamned thing" until someone writes a program for it? wow, for a second i was convinced all we needed was hardware. i was all set to buy new arcade cabinets for each new game that's released too.

but now we have DNA-based processors, artificial neural nets, cyborg eyes, organic lasers...
so yeah, clever asshole, maybe one day we will run our millions of lines of code through a cat. if it weren't for software, what would your physical devices do? one thing at a time? what is the point of your physical devices if they can't be programmed? a bunch of lulzsec crackers much smarter than you are can answer that for you.

take your chicken-and-the-egg bullshit to your next AA meeting, you sound drunk.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

SilverJets (131916) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428228)

If it wasn't for software types your hardware would sit there like a lump of metal and do nothing. We're all in the same boat here.

And, my statement stands. Dragging and dropping components together is no where near as complex as learning programming concepts (logic, algorithms, OO, etc.) as well as language syntax in order to get the hardware to spit out the correct answer.

Re:drag and drop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36428486)

Please, what is typing "import os" but dragging and dropping text? Do you understand every single function, every line of code in "os"? No? Then you're the same.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

jhoegl (638955) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427296)

I really dont see how coding is so difficult. It is basically like normal life... you make decisions based on rules (ethics), and the options presented before you.
Which option helps you accomplish your goal faster, easier, safer and correctly?
Same thing with coding, simplistic if/than/else/switch type decisions based on the output of functions you developed in a data input/output or mathematical computation.

Perhaps coding in 3d is difficult if you can not "see" or perceive the output of your computation?

Thinking, it isnt as tough as you would think...

Conundrum!

Re:drag and drop? (1)

softWare3ngineer (2007302) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427370)

Perhaps coding in 3d is difficult if you can not "see" or perceive the output of your computation?

queue 1995 hackers epic climax scene

Re:drag and drop? (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428092)

Thinking, it isnt as tough as you would think...

The thing is your brain is actually doing several billion things at once. You are only conscious of about 15-20 of those things. When you reach for a glass of water you do it slowly and gently and when you swing your arm to hit something you do it with a lot of force. You didn't "think" about how hard or soft you were going to use your arm. A good coder has to anticipate thousands of possible decisions in creating a single simple app.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

pxc (938367) | more than 3 years ago | (#36430116)

I agree. I'm not much of a visual learner myself, so maybe I just can't appreciate it... I feel like an asshole for saying it, but Scratch looks to me as if it is quite literally child's play, and totally out of place in a university. I would be more inclined to simply teach students to draw their own diagrams when planning out their design, but maybe that's supposed to be some of what this software does.

I just don't know. Anyone can be tripped up by a new concept just because of that novelty; someone currently struggling to understand programming concepts may go on to be a good programmer. But what kind of a programmer does a student become when that struggle to understand would have caused them to quit if they hadn't been given this 'drag and drop programming language'? Who wants to work with the guy who gives up unless he's spoonfed to this degree? The stated purpose just seems wrong.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

MachDelta (704883) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427308)

What would you rather have them do? Start writing in assembly? :)

Scratch is a terrific ice breaker. You can build and test simple concepts without having to worry about syntax. Yet it still teaches people how code is generally structured and read. I think people who've been programming for even a short span of time can forget that to the uninitiated a page of code looks like rainbow-alphabet-puke. Scratch teaches *concepts*, like how one bit of code can nest or plug-in to another. So when people start a real language and they see a big chunk of indented code they understand that "chunk" is plugged in to whatever is at the top, even if they don't understand what it does.

I used Scratch in my CS101 labs and I loved it. After four weeks of mucking about with it we switched over to C++ and no one seemed lost.
Not then anyways. The clueless blank stares generally don't start until the second year... with pointers.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

metalmaster (1005171) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427824)

When I took programming courses in high school syntax errors were part of the learning process. Intermixing logical statements and watching things go wrong was also part of that process.

You do not learn to write by cutting and pasting paragraphs from a novel.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

superwiz (655733) | more than 3 years ago | (#36429162)

I sometimes wonder if it's the bad naming that causes so much confusion with pointers. They are just memory addresses. What if they were called "addresses" instead of "pointers?" Sure you may think "what's in the name?" BUT! Programming, as a mental task, is a constant repurposing of concepts (especially when people are too lazy to give variables full names). Ie, "i is one thing, l is another, etc." So having another misdirection every time you use an address variable adds another mental task. It's 2nd nature after a while, but even seasoned programmers slip up on it when they are tired.

The name probably seemed natural because of how people described data structures when C was written (boxes and arrows). But in today's world most of boxes and arrows are object diagrams (so arrows are not pointers). Not that I am saying that object diagrams get confused with tree data structures, but I am saying that the utility of calling an address variable a "pointer" is long gone. I am curious if any one had much success trying to force themselves to use the word "address" and "pointer" when referring to these variables in teaching.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | more than 3 years ago | (#36429832)

I sometimes wonder if it's the bad naming that causes so much confusion with pointers. They are just memory addresses. What if they were called "addresses" instead of "pointers?"

When you have a printed mailing label, is the label an "address", or is the "address" that which is printed on the label?

Re:drag and drop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36429662)

The clueless blank stares generally don't start until the second year... with pointers.

When I taught C at the local university, it was a 3 week course, the students did learn pointers and most of them passed the course. Most of them hadn't done any programming before.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427760)

It's not so much how you put the code together as understanding the way the different components work together. Scratch doesn't hide the details very much - it just provides a graphical representation. Any experienced programmer knows that it doesn't really matter if you use Python, Perl, Java, or C so much as knowing how algorithms work. All that other crud is dealing with your language's syntax and limitations and how the code will be executed.

I've previously made a tool similar to Scratch for writing shell scripts and it was a pretty interesting experiment although I eventually decided the mouse was a slow way to program. I've also done some domain specific languages for games and tools that used a lot of visual components and it can work very well for those.

Recently I've been experimenting with making a tool for programming in a multitouch environment which I think works much better. Right now I'm working on producing JavaScript but thats only because it's easy to use on both iOS and Android. All the normal language features such as defining functions and variables, control statements, etc are simple gestures and instead of naming things with a string the programmer can make a doodle (or type in a string). Existing code is visually expressed and can be edited by touching the area that needs editing. I think the concept is strong although obviously certain details will need tweaking.

Re:drag and drop? (1)

lucian1900 (1698922) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428032)

Having just finished a UK uni, I can confirm this. We were taught mostly Java, but were expected to be able to learn C/C++/other on our own in 3rd year. Very few of my fellow students are capable of programming at all, and many of them have better marks than me. Sad.

Very interested to see what people do with this... (1)

RoverDaddy (869116) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426878)

I've played with Scratch and it seems useful for introducing some programming concepts, but try to do anything meaningful (i.e. large) with it and the drawbacks of this approach to programming become apparent. However, if they ever release version 2.0 which apparently may support "user defined blocks", a.k.a. functions, that would be a great help.

Re:Very interested to see what people do with this (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426986)

However, if they ever release version 2.0 which apparently may support "user defined blocks", a.k.a. functions, that would be a great help.

Oh that is _so_ not what we need!

Contained as a "learning language" where you can go so far and then basically have to go use a real language... it's great.

Start adding stuff to make it useful on real projects though, and you'll see it used in real projects. "Easy to learn, visual" and "good for long term maintainability" tend not to belong together.

Re:Very interested to see what people do with this (4, Informative)

pixelpusher220 (529617) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427142)

Start adding stuff to make it useful on real projects though, and you'll see it used in real projects. "Easy to learn, visual" and "good for long term maintainability" tend not to belong together.

1990s called, they want their Visual Basic back ;-)

VB plus Access was a world class application demo tool. Fast n easy. The problem was 'ship it' was what usually came out of the demo targets mouths...

Re:Very interested to see what people do with this (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427200)

1983 called, they want their Turbo Pascal back. ;-)

Re:Very interested to see what people do with this (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427206)

Learnt that lesson the hard way... big time! Except substitute access with excel.

Now any time I'm asked to do a demo or prototype version of something.. I make it very clear that it's not production ready.

"This demo can handle one entry. The real version will handle as many as you want".

And show only the part that is novel (that is, the reason for the demo) and all the other stuff "will be implemented in the real version". Even if it is trivial to implement... don't do it!

Re:Very interested to see what people do with this (2)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427248)

YES! YES!

Someone mod this up before I have a stroke!

This is _exactly_ what happens!

Why does it need to plug into a computer? (1)

Lord Lode (1290856) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426906)

Why not make it something self sufficient, something primitive and programmable!

Re:Why does it need to plug into a computer? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427220)

Once programmed, Arduino is self-sufficient.

Re:Why does it need to plug into a computer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427298)

How do you expect to get the program on there? Perhaps translate the compiled source into binary and then have the student tap it into ROM using morse code via the little button they provide?

Re:Why does it need to plug into a computer? (1)

aztracker1 (702135) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427514)

I don't know why they didn't just use Lego Mindstorm.

Re:Why does it need to plug into a computer? (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428500)

Good point. ARM cpus are getting so cheap and powerful you can make a desktop system for next to nothing.

What is the point of the hardware? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426916)

What purpose does the hardware serve? Why do we need to plug something into a USB port to write programs?

Re:What is the point of the hardware? (1)

alta (1263) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427012)

Looking at the article, the hardware is a collection of I/O ports
minijack
3pin servo connector
slider
speaker
button
etc....

USB is just the computer interface. Dummy programming via dope & drop, upload to board, watch your little toy do something.

Jobs? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426920)

The university hopes this gadget-based approach will encourage fewer students to give up on their studies.

Being able to get a job after graduation is too hard. Lets give out gadgets instead!

What I don't understand is why an IT curriculum has this "theory of programming" and "computer science-y" stuff. I understand its in the UK, but over here in the US, CS = theory and programming, and IT = working for da man in the IT department doing database design and rebooting windows machines, at most hitting a little legacy cobol. If the little gadget had a postgresql or mysql install on it, or maybe 4 or 5 virtual routers with little virtual LANs connecting them, or a MCSE cheatsheet lab, then it would be a useful in a IT curriculum. It sounds like the ideal gadget for a computer engineering curriculm, or even straight up EE if it had a DSP unit inside it.

Re:Jobs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427032)

>>> It sounds like the ideal gadget for a computer engineering curriculm, or even straight up EE if it had a DSP unit inside it.

No, it sounds like a crippled piece of shit made for little kids. How about getting an arduino and a bunch of sensors and actually *doing* something worth wild, and learn vastly more at the same time.

Re:Jobs? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427274)

It's funny because in AVR forums some people call Arduino "a crippled piece of shit made for little kids".

Re:Jobs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427586)

Yes, but at least you can take what you've done with an arduino and pretty head right into AVR land...since you know, avr-gcc is whats used to compile arduino code from the ide behind the scenes. In fact you don't even need to use the arduino IDE at all and can just program straight in AVR Studio [smileymicros.com] ...Plus I'd like to see you get a a beginner to even grasp the first concept about AVR programming with zero background. In fact while we're at it, why not teach beginners how to program FPGA's by hand? Would that make you happier?

Re:Jobs? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428570)

You reply also works for that "gadget to teach coding". The point of my comment is that no matter how much you know, someone else is going to be better than you.

I was expecting a reply that avr-gcc is "a crippled piece of shit made for little kids" and that real coders program directly in assembly.

Followed by another comment saying that assembly is "a crippled piece of shit made for little kids" and real coders write directly in binary.

Followed, of course, by that xkcd cartoon about how real programmers use butterflies. [xkcd.com]

Re:Jobs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427596)

"worth wild"? How about learning English first? How come you geeks can remember obscure trivia from crappy sci-fi movies, know every permutation of CPU and OS but somehow can't spell or know when to use apostrophes?

We have tech school that do that but apprenticeshi (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427044)

IT needs apprenticeships not work free Internship where at some jobs you end working hard for free or doing stuff like being a Coffee boy or copy boy.

apprenticeships + class room is better then the theory loaded + filler class that most 2-4 years curriculum has. May it a 2 year mixed apprenticeships + class room setup with on going class after that as well.

Hands on is needed and books and cert tests are at times far off from the real work place. The tech schools are more hands on them the big school curriculum and don't have classes like art history. Also some the curriculum are a little to much math loaded.

Also there are people out there who are not cut out for a 4 year curriculum big school plan but can do real good in a apprenticeship plan.

Re:Jobs? (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427078)

The university hopes this gadget-based approach will encourage fewer students to give up on their studies.

What I don't understand is why an IT curriculum has this "theory of programming" and "computer science-y" stuff. I understand its in the UK, but over here in the US, CS = theory and programming, and IT = working for da man in the IT department doing database design and rebooting windows machines, at most hitting a little legacy cobol.

I can answer that. They're probably referring to what many schools in the US call a degree in Information Systems. IS degrees from some places are indeed glorified IT training programs. In fact the article says:

The new computing degrees have an emphasis on vocational and work-based learning

On the other hand, I majored in IS (In the US) yet my classes weren't strictly theory or "applied computing". It was a mixture. I still had to take the core programming courses (Data Structures & Algorithms, Compiler Design, Operating Systems Programming, etc.) in addition to the IT-type courses (Database Design aka SQL, Computer Networking, "Systems Analysis & Design", etc.)

Re:Jobs? (1)

bryan1945 (301828) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427598)

"On the other hand, I majored in IS (In the US) yet my classes weren't strictly theory or "applied computing". It was a mixture. I still had to take the core programming courses (Data Structures & Algorithms, Compiler Design, Operating Systems Programming, etc.) in addition to the IT-type courses (Database Design aka SQL, Computer Networking, "Systems Analysis & Design", etc.)"

Here, too, though I was focused on security, so less base programming and more finding security holes and forensics, plus network stuff. Annoying class was "Web Security," where we had 3 fake websites we had to penetrate a minimum of 4 ways each. Which was neat, but the book was complete crap so I spent a ton more time reading the internet rather than the $110, 160 page book. (What, I didn't know anything about SQL injection at the time)
My simplistic view:
CS- good if you want to work for MS, Apple, Google, etc
IT- good if you want to be a system/network admin/designer/implementator
IS- good if you want to a mixture of the above

Flame away

Re:Jobs? (1)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 3 years ago | (#36432854)

Interesting. At the school I went to it went more like this:

CIT - mostly website stuff & some UI stuff
IT - Networking (network admin)
CST - Broken up into different "options" including Client-Server, Database, Technical Writing (mostly docs), IS (websites), DataCommunications (unix, security & low level serial, IPC, etc i/o)

Re:Jobs? (1)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427162)

I am surprised that you assess that database design requires less knowledge, theory etc. than programming.

I guess doing BAD database design requires less knowledge, but database design is really a lot about modelling the domain in a pragmatic yet suitably abstracted and extensible way, mixing in some tricky performance considerations. That's pretty knowledge-intensive to do right.

Re:Jobs? (1)

DarwinSurvivor (1752106) | more than 3 years ago | (#36432958)

Because most programmers need to be database designers as well.

Mixed feelings (2)

Anrego (830717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426942)

Dunno how to feel about this really.

Personally I think if you don't have the kind of interest in computers that drives you to "figure it out" and get past the "can't do a damn thing" stage, you are probably gonna make a crumby programmer. My intro to programming was on a TRS-80 (actually a dragon32.. which is essentially a TRS-80 clone) and I spent many months messing around with it. Most of the programmers I know who have found success generally have the same story.

But then times change. Maybe this is what we need now. A different set of skills and general mindset. Maybe the things that attracted me to programming are no longer as relevant.

Probably can't hurt at least.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427226)

1956 called. Wants its reason for splitting up "electrical engineering" and "computer science" curricula back.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

the phantom (107624) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428260)

Holy shit! Did you warn them about 9/11?

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428560)

They were too busy talking about Roswell. I couldn't get it through to them that Afghanistan would one day be powerful enough to topple three skyscrapers in downtown NYC and put a hole in the Pentagon, or that we'd have a president too stupid to catch the rich monk who'd organized it. Then there was this "vorp...vorp...vorp" noise and the wormhole closed.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

BeforeCoffee (519489) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427402)

Well, we're trying to produce a facsimile of your intro to programming at ClubCompy [clubcompy.com] . The point of the site is to create a simple computer simulation coupled with a BASIC-like language that kids can pick up easily. And we are working on a monthly newsletter that will be a companion on the site. If you sign up for an account, you can even SAVE and LOAD your programs.

You can see an example of what it's capable of doing at the Real-World Benchmark [clubcompy.com] , which gives some sample programs you can type in with the kiddos!

Dave

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

dubbayu_d_40 (622643) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427838)

Wonderful, thank you!!!

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427474)

I taught computer science in high school. Unfortunately, we get a lot of people trying to bypass learning programming. There is this whole driver in the educational system that different people just learn differently and that you should be able to teach everyone, everything... you just need to find the right way to teach them.

That is to say... the attitude is to not say math is hard. It is only hard because math was always taught in a numerical way. You need to find a way to teach math to audible learners, action learners...

I'm not going to dispute people learn differently... but different domains require different forms of thought.

In regard to programming... there's no getting around the idea of a variable or an algorithmic sequences of steps.

Do you really think the great barrier to kids learning programming is that they see an IF they get scared, but they see a diamond representing an IF, they suddenly get it?

Nope, don't me wrong, I used flow charts to demonstrate concepts. I used activities and steps to teach algorithms.

The key thing is you can't escape the concepts in the domain. You can't dilly dally away the notion of a variable or a sequence of steps. That's what programming is.

And anyone who has programmed or taught programming will tell you that it is the concepts that need to be learned and understood. The superficial expression of those concepts (visual tools, programming language...) are not anything substantial and don't really impact a child's interest.

To top it off, to do anything useful, it is far quicker to use a programming language than drag around pictures and icons. And you should see the joy in the kids when they make a ball move across the screen or they make the computer say 'John is an idiot'. It's hilarious.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

fwarren (579763) | more than 3 years ago | (#36429142)

I taught myself back in the 80s. All I had was access to a VIC-20 display unit at a K-Mart store and a library card. The demo program I typed in out of the book did not run and it took me 5 hours to figure out there was a difference between ";" and ":" as well as "0" and "O" or "1 and "I". So it has been a while since I have thought like a beginner.

I took some classes last year and "introduction to programming" was one of them. What surprised me was most peoples lack of ability to sequence anything. They would know in an instant that the sequence of 1. Push the door open till it is open wide enough to pass though while walking forward through the doorway. 2. reach for the door knob take a firm grip of the door knob. 3. Release the door knob. 4. Turn right about 90 degrees till the knob no longer turns Is not a good sequence.

However they would routinely do things in a loop like 1. TOTAL=TOTAL+SUM 2. SUM=USER INPUT * 2.5 3. TOTAL=0 having no idea that they should have zeroed out the total before the loop started, and that they had to add the sum to the total AFTER they computed the sum, not before they compute it. Simple cause and effect sequencing. The problem is people do it in there sleep without any thought. They have never thought about the process.

Just like staring to count at 1 without even considering the number 0.

Every student is different. We all stumble at different points. Class marches forward while students struggle with a concept that never quite sunk in.

I was hoping that programming would separate the men from the boys so to speak. No need to teach networking or database theory to someone who can not grok a variable or a for loop. Turns out it is possible to write a program that 30% of the statements in it make no sense and still pass the class.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

scamper_22 (1073470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36429416)

Yep.

I'd say the hardest thing to teach kids is the notion of a variable. Some get it and then programming just flows naturally. Others just don't get it.

I also taught various math classes and you face the same problems there in algebra and other classes.

In math class it can be a bit easier for the kids to get by as they can just memorize the steps and the formulas. If some fantasy world of mine, most of these kids would not have passed the course. Yet we have the educational system we have... and they pass. I kept the problems worded the same as in their homework assignments.

Such is the education system. When I was teaching (back in engineering now), you just have to suck it up and try to do the best you can. There's a million things I'd do differently, but it's a bureaucracy out there that's darn near impossible to change.

Re:Mixed feelings (1)

ImprovOmega (744717) | more than 3 years ago | (#36429260)

No, you're right. Making it easier cripples the next generation of coders. If you don't have enough love of the craft to puzzle your way through a trial by fire, you probably shouldn't be doing it. More to the point - the fundamentals are hard, but once learned you understand why it doesn't make sense to use bubblesort on a million item list, and why iterating a 2-d array in C++ is vastly faster row by row than column by column. When you survive those tests you come out with computing wisdom and the ability to write sensible, useful, responsive code. If you take the easy route, sure maybe you can be a code monkey, but your problem solving abilities will be nil.

Scratch and Sense programming? Seriously? (3, Insightful)

alta (1263) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426976)

Programming is too hard with all that darn syntax and obscure words and stuff. We have to make this for the common man. So now, programming will all be done via Scratch and Sense.

Sure, need a loop? Drag over a loop. Need and if/then/else? it's on that toolbar over there. Need to consume a web service? Look in the Mashable toolbar.

Oh, need to parse a string of text to see if the input matches your criteria? No, that's called regex, you'll need to find a real programmer to help you with that.

Need to test your security/performance/useability? Sorry, go see that real programmer again.

Re:Scratch and Sense programming? Seriously? (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427114)

Yeah, they really seem to be taking an ass-backwards approach here. Considering the problem they're trying to solve is that there are too many jobs and too few qualified candidates, focusing their efforts on people who think that the hardest part of programming is syntax makes absolutely no sense at all.

Re:Scratch and Sense programming? Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427198)

I totally agree. If your first language wasn't Lisp, you should kill yourself now and save yourself the disappointment of a substandard career.

Re:Scratch and Sense programming? Seriously? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427394)

Sounds like Visual Studio.

Thanks folks, I'll be here all night!

Re:Scratch and Sense programming? Seriously? (1)

yanw (881137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427728)

Having studied computing with the OU I must both agree and differ with you.

This "device" is just one unit of a three year degree and will be designed to guide how to control and monitor with a simple to program unit. This will be at most six months of a three year degree.

The "regex" side will have been taught in an earlier module, one specific to programming and how to write good software.

My OU degree served me well in teaching me the field of computing and having studied at a physical university proved to be of better quality.

Re:Scratch and Sense programming? Seriously? (1)

DemonGenius (2247652) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427748)

Yeah, they really seem to have forgotten that someone can't write code unless they know how to think critically, solve logical problems, and pay extra, extra attention to detail. If someone can not learn these things, then they are not fit to be programmers, plain and simple.

Re:Scratch and Sense programming? Seriously? (1)

Antaeus Feldspar (118374) | more than 3 years ago | (#36430278)

Unfortunately, your entire comment is based on a straw man argument that all programming will be done this way. Since that's not what's being proposed, your entire comment is misaimed.

Why? (1)

adeft (1805910) | more than 3 years ago | (#36426980)

Why try to attract/retain kids in any major? Some jobs are just not for some people. Something tells me a different coding language/piece of hardware isn't going to retain kids that decide they don't like IT.

Re:Why? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427134)

Why try to attract/retain kids in any major? Some jobs are just not for some people. Something tells me a different coding language/piece of hardware isn't going to retain kids that decide they don't like IT.

You can smell a top down management solution a mile away. some exec-VP has a goal of increasing enrollment in his empire, and the easiest way for his minions to help is to scavenge out of other majors at that organization. Select the "cool looking hardware" for the photo op, then figure out what to do with it, then figure out if anyone can get employed afterwards.

Bottom up solution would look a little different...

Re:Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427178)

"Many of the students will never have touched a computer in any creative way at all and we're going to be getting them to programme internet-ready applications in a couple of weeks," he said.

Aren't there enough PHP code monkeys in the world already?

The Little Coder's Predicament (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427094)

I think this idea is brilliant, albet a little late in the game for a higher level education.
I recommend people check out what _why wrote about this very thing, because I feel the perspective he brings puts this kind of idea in a different light.

http://viewsourcecode.org/why/hacking/theLittleCodersPredicament.html

Re:The Little Coder's Predicament (1)

RoverDaddy (869116) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427678)

I think I've read this before and it's great, but where he asks Console makers to participate, he runs smack against the business model that has Console makers (except for Nintendo apparently) selling hardware well below cost in order to make the money later on games. With this business model, allowing the Console to have a useful life separate from running lucrative games, is like asking for people to walk away with your money. I imagine this is the bottom-line reason why PS3's no longer have an Other-OS option.

Re:The Little Coder's Predicament (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36429474)

I completely agree with you that Sony, Nintendo, and surely Microsoft will never implement this model, no matter how good _why's arguments. That's the strength behind teaching programming and hacking in this way. It offers that which is no longer offered through any other modern method.

-"The Little Coder's Predicament" poster

How does this address the problem? (1)

Mister Fright (1559681) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427106)

The problem is not enough programming students so the trick up their sleeve is a ubiquitous (what exactly is meant by that?), visually programmed computing device? Makes sense if they were dropping out because they didn't have a chunk of hardware they can use in the school lab then take home, but I doubt that's it.

And I don't know about the visual programming language, I imagine they'll start programming in a text language eventually so you'd just delay them quitting if that's the cause.

This device just seems like a visually programmed arduino.

2.6 million students? (1)

klapaucjusz (1167407) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427150)

This year IT students make up 10 per cent of the university's student intake with some 263,000 studying the subject.

Huh? The OU has 2.6 million students? 4% of the UK's population?

the university has some 25,000 students who have "paused" their IT studies.

The OU is a huge institution, but the 263,000 is the total number of students of all disciplines. This means that there are around 25,000 total IT students, and roughly the same number of "paused" ones.

Somebody mean spirited might conclude that while distance learning might work for Psychology and even Philosophy, it's not suitable for highly technical disciplines such as CS...

-- jch

Re:2.6 million students? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427496)

Huh? The OU has 2.6 million students? 4% of the UK's population?

Huh? Ever heard of "the rest of the world"?

Somebody mean spirited might conclude that while distance learning might work for Psychology and even Philosophy, it's not suitable for highly technical disciplines such as CS...

Somebody who isn't mean-spirited might conclude that CS ought to be ideally suited to distance learning. Please explain why it isn't.

But I am mean-spirited, so I'm going to point out that it's an IS degree, not CS, and if you don't know the different then your opinion isn't worth shit.

Re:2.6 million students? (1)

klapaucjusz (1167407) | more than 3 years ago | (#36430248)

Huh? The OU has 2.6 million students? 4% of the UK's population?

Huh? Ever heard of "the rest of the world"?

From About the OU [open.ac.uk] :

Our 250,000 students...

-- jch

Dumbing it down (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427222)

The University I went to offers a class in embedded device programming, and we had to buy our own chip & board which connects via USB, and comes with a CD with an IDE with witch you can program the device in C or Assembler. That was a couple of years ago. I really enjoyed the class. While drag and drop programming sounds cool and all, I don't know if I would have come out of the class with as deep an understanding if we had gone that route. They could always offer both classes I guess.

Watered-Down Courses Yield Watered-Down Careers (1)

SoothingMist (1517119) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427290)

This amounts to watering down a course so people on the far left of the bell curve can still pass. In a world that increasingly needs strong expertise, a process like this will never produce anyone who can compete. My advice is to stick with credible universities that have strong reputations.

credible university? (1)

fantomas (94850) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428876)

I'd say 16th out of 80 universities [slashdot.org] that submitted their CS to the last RAE makes the OU reasonably credible in the field of computing expertise.

What metrics do you use for measuring universities?

Wrong Help (1)

Uloi (1996356) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427338)

I didn't give up on college because I didn't want to code. I gave up because for some reason the teachers thought knowing that the old woman that was in the navy invented COBOL was somehow important. Tests had nothing to do with ability to code. .. Here is 100 lines of code, whats wrong with it. Oh there is a semi colon missing somewhere. Yea that's a really good test.

Re:Wrong Help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427610)

Let me put on my cynical angry-old-man get-off-my-lawn hat and give you the painful truth: A significant fraction of the purpose of -any- education is to demonstrate your willingness to sit down, shut up and learn whatever it is that you're asked to learn, whether it makes sense to you or not. When you go out into the real world looking for entry-level work, this is part of what employers are looking for when they check your degrees.

Sad but true.

Re:Wrong Help (1)

Clueless Moron (548336) | more than 3 years ago | (#36429364)

Hmmmm I'm a grizzled old developer and I don't entirely agree with you. Grace Hopper got about 30 seconds of coverage when I was at University (but I remember her anyway because of her awesomeness), but throwing a bunch of code at us and asking us to pretend to be compilers (i.e. detecting syntax errors) didn't occur at all. Instead we learned how to actually write compilers. And operating systems. And all that other hardcore stuff that goes along with having a degree in Computer Science rather than being a coding monkey.

I think the GP went to a really crappy college, and actually I'm curious which one it was. Uloi, will you confess :-) ?

Not learning Programming. (1)

Biggseye (1520195) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427406)

This is not learning programming, this is the dumbing down of IT staff. Programming is learn how something works, why it works. Using the building block of knowledge to produce code that does something. Using the knowledge to fix issues, to make modifications, to add functionality, to make it more efficient. I have had to learn over 20 programming languages over the 35 years of programming in my career. I have programmed functions that had never been done before. This is not programming, it is cookie cutter plug and play, there is no creativity, no thinking out of the box, no risk taking, no pushing the boundaries. These "programmers" will never understand what it is they do and why it works. Do you think any group of these "programmers" could create Doom? Word? Excel? Wordpro? word perfect? I am afraid the response is...."not a chance"

I introduced ~75 elementary school kids to scratch (1)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427568)

after it was recommended to me on /. The results were great. The kids really enjoyed it and the presentation where I introduced it was well attended and generated a lot of enthusiasm. Many of the kids went on to download scratch and use it at home.

I hope I can get some of these boards to do a follow-on presentation. they seem to be much better than the other scratch boards that I have seen.

Re:I introduced ~75 elementary school kids to scra (1)

PetiePooo (606423) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428300)

I introduced ~75 elementary school kids to scratch. ... The kids really enjoyed it...

Key word being kids. Kids don't attend the university. (Well, in theory, anyway...)

The point being, scratch may be great for kids who don't know how to type or are just learning the core principles of logic (if, while, and, or, etc.). I would think a university should be targeting a more mature student.

Plus, if someone has started an IT degree without ever having written a program or taught themselves a programming language, I believe they're there for the wrong reasons and it's just as well they wash out. Those are the ones that aspire to be merely adequate.

They might try management instead. The pay is better and sub-par performance seems to be tolerated...

<flame>your comments here

They already have a gadget that teaches coding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427662)

They already have a gadget that teaches coding--the computer they're plugging it into. They should just download Python or something. They say Python is good for beginners. When they're ready to do real work it's good for that too; but really the language isn't that important. They should learn algorithms and data structures, and if that's too hard then it would be better not to turn them loose at hiring managers anyway. It'll just lead to bad feelings all around.

Its not the first time the OU has done this.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36427842)

Back in the early 1980s, I studied an Open University course called TM222 - The Digital Computer. This course covered similar ground, though it involved programming in Basic and in 8085 assembler to control a peripheral board using a loan microcomputer called Hektor 2 which had 4Kb RAM/8Kb ROM ( http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=602&st=1 ). I've still got the handbook somewhere... I also studied another OU computing course around the same time that had more of a general programming bias. This involved coding in UCSD Pascal on an OU VAX computer in Milton Keynes. To access this, the student would book sessions at a local college that provided access and use a Dec printing terminal mated to a 300 baud modem with an acoustic coupler that the telephone handset rested in. The whole affair was kept in a large plywood box to prevent the uninitiated from fiddling with it. I do remember that the login procedure was a bit convoluted because the same equipment was used by students on another OU course.

But it was all great fun!

My main memory of OU courses in general is that the teaching materials and support were excellent. I only gave up because I was able to go to a "proper" (ie conventional) local university and complete a computing degree cheaper and more quickly that with the OU. I don't know how well they perform nopwadays.

Labview? (1)

drolli (522659) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427908)

If you want to make ubiquitous computing evaluating sensor data in a way which is trivial enough for beginners in programming easy then use a dataflow language, like labview; I dont like the latter but i things like "LED on if temperature higher than" are really easy to program and modify.

Dataflow language may be not my personal favorite, but they do their job.

Why would anyone take a technical course at OU? (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 3 years ago | (#36427980)

The OU -- the institution that charges non-UK residents approximately twice the tuition and then sends region 2 encoded DVDs to US residents.

Apart from the cluelessness of sending a region-2 encoded disk to the USA, there is the added question of why the disks are region-encoded at all.

I can accept the issue of double the cost for non-UK residents (it's market pricing, rather than cost-based), but they really should encourage those non-UK residents to take more courses, not put them off with incompatible DVDs.

OK, it wasn't a major barrier for me -- since we have DVD player that plays just about any disk, but not everyone has such a player, or in the case of a PC, potentially lock their DVD drive to a certain region by changing the region state too many times.

build a system that even a fool can use... (1)

hydrodog (1154181) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428080)

... and only fools will use it. What we really need are more programmers that can't handle programming languages. Hell, most of the people I've dealt with over the years clearly majored in beer.

Encourage fewer students to give up (1)

michelcolman (1208008) | more than 3 years ago | (#36428724)

They hope the new approach "will encourage fewer students to give up on their studies". So it will still encourage students to give up, only fewer than the old method?

Re:Encourage fewer students to give up (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 3 years ago | (#36429860)

They hope the new approach "will encourage fewer students to give up on their studies". So it will still encourage students to give up, only fewer than the old method?

No, it will encourage them to continue study in a field for which they have no aptitude and no serious interest

Why try to prop stupid students up? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36429268)

If they cant do it way are they there in the first place? the university is only trying to increase its revenue

Re:Why try to prop stupid students up? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36429604)

"the university is only trying to increase its revenue"

Uh, when was it ever different? Universities are a BUSINESS first and foremost, and the fresh meat is there to be grabbed by the ankles and shook until every last penny has fallen out.

Its actully putting me off... (1)

mindwhip (894744) | more than 3 years ago | (#36430456)

When they first announced this course along with computing degree revamp around a year ago there was a lot of discussion amongst people that who had been planning on doing the course it replaces. A lot of people understandably didn't like how simplistic they were making it seem at the time.

The course is required to complete any of the named computing degrees offered by the Open University, however the featured device and other course material seems to be aimed at a 'this is a computer and it has flashing lights and beeps and there is this interweb thing you should know about' stuff I did when I was 14 and is not even close to what I would expect for a first year university computing course. Give me a real programming language C, Pascal, even VB would do at a pinch , teach me about data types, data structures, procedures, objects, etc. instead of drag and drop programming for a simple computer with a few sensors and lights attached, something that would be more suitable in a primary school.

The time to study the course (5-10 hours a week for the best part of a year), including assessments etc, along with the cost (£770) of the pointless required course and the completely uninteresting subject matter has put me in two minds if I should even bother studying a computing degree with them as it will begin with me wasting a year of my life. Especially as I was only planning on doing so to learn something new and interesting...

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