Is the Teaching of Coding Broken?

Susan Hall

As ever more college classes migrate online, as well as much tech skills training, Bret Victor, a former interface designer for Apple, slams online sites that teach coding as mostly useless.

I’ve written before about the idea that coding has become a basic essential skill — particularly for startup entrepreneurs.

Writes Victor:

Learning about "for" loops is not learning to program, any more than learning about pencils is learning to draw.

It would seem that students learning to program from a book would face the same obstacles.

Beyond asserting that learning to program with Khan's online tutorials is like learning to cook by making random stabs at an unmarked microwave, he says programming itself is broken.

Victor told Technology Review that the essential problem is that "the programmer has to imagine the execution of the program and never sees the data." That and that the programmer has to think like a machine, rather than the machine imitating humans.

According to the article:

Chefs aren't forced to perfectly simulate everything between "ingredients" and "new souffle" in their heads before touching any of the food; nor would they expect everything that happens in between "assembling the ingredients" and "pulling the souffle out of the oven" to be concealed from them. But this is how a lot of the work of programming actually happens, according to Victor.

The questions, then, are how to transform the teaching of coding and who will do it.


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Oct 4, 2012 9:52 AM R. Lawson R. Lawson  says:
Not just a play on words, but we need to teach "software engineering" as opposed to "coding". I've found people very good at coding but not so good at building systems that are supportable, testable, and that can scale. Using your chef analogy - I'm sure a master chef could teach me how to make a great dish. And I could make that dish really well, the wife would be pleased, and my mom would still think me a genius. I would still be incapable of being a member of the chef's staff, or be of much use in the kitchen other than that dish. "The questions, then, are how to transform the teaching of coding and who will do it." If you want to be a great chef, you go to a great chef school. You then work on the job under a great chef for many years. It's unreasonable to think that people are going to become master software engineers by simply learning to code or taking a few online courses. They need a foundation and that foundation is college. They need the experience. Online courses should be part of your continuing education - not a replacement for education or experience. Reply
Oct 4, 2012 12:15 PM Anthony Hall Anthony Hall  says:
Susan, Excellent article cousin Hall! Have You METT The Rose? Mentors - Educators - Teachers - Technologists The Rose of Education Organization (TREO) is a tech startup and social enterprise. Revolve Education - Acronymics, Algorithms and Linguistics (REAAL), is a programming language being developed to introduce kids to coding concepts and help with reading comprehension. Mission: Increase literacy comprehension and graduation rates; promote health, wellness and fitness; and introduce the sciences and technology as career paths that youths in the inner-city, urban and rural communities can aspire to, doing so in a manner that inspires imagination, ignites intellect and informs individuality. Statement: Education is a birth-right. Learning should be fun. Vision: Customized Game Curriculums for every child based on an analysis of how they play. Values & Principles: Be of Service - Make a Positive Difference - Improve Quality of Life for Everyone We are stepping into the breach. The Rose STEM Games. Reply

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