Tuesday, November 28, 2017

How (Some) Schools Sabotage Computer Science Education

There are many problems getting more computer science into schools. There is a shortage of teachers. There is a problem with room in the schedule. I could go on but there are also problems for schools who have computer science programs caused by people inside the schools. And I keep hearing about them.

Problem number one seems to be the people who manage the school networks. Now you might think these people would be natural allies of computer science programs and you’d be right in some cases. In far to many though your would be wrong. A lot of school network managers have priorities that can run counter to those of teachers. Not just computer science teachers mind you but they can hit computer science teachers especially hard.

There is always a trade off between keeping a network secure and keeping it easy to uses. Finding the right balance is key though. One of the biggest issues I keep hearing about is technology decisions that don’t involve the teachers who will be using the technology. For example lately I have been hearing a lot of teachers complain that their PCs are going away to be replaced by Chromebooks. Now one can do a lot with Chromebooks. One can even teach computer science with them. More or less. But telling a computer science teacher that they are losing the tools they have used for years and asking them to figure things out on their own is not fair.

Far to many hardware decisions are made in schools based on cost and ease of system management without considering the impact of teaching.

Sometimes decisions are made that actively prohibit teaching some things. IT people block useful websites. IT people refuse to allow some software to be installed. All this with the goal of locking down the systems and making them easy to manage.

And then there are administrators who don’t seem to understand the needs of computer science courses. I recently heard from a teacher who was told they were losing their computer lab for two weeks so the school could do testing. What? Teach computers without computers? OK sure there are many CS concepts you can teach without computers. CS Unplugged is a wonderful resource for that. But to have that decision made for you one short notice – for and advanced placement course? Can you imagine?

Picture the music department told they would have to teach music without instruments for two weeks? Or the art department being told to teach without art supplies?

It’s hard to get too upset with the principal here though. They are in a hard spot and need the computers to do the standardized testing that people who know nothing about education insist that they administer. On the other hand since it is unlikely that these tests come as a surprise to the principal they should at least let the teacher know long enough in advance so that they can properly plan. But they don’t understand what it is like teaching computer science. How could they if they never even took computer science as a student?

We really do need more educators to understand computer science better.

BTW my school has an administration who absolutely do understand enough about CS to bring the department in on decisions that impact them. And our IT people put students and teachers first and do all they can to make teaching easier for us. Faculty has lots of input on new devices. We do it right. I just wish every CS teacher had the support we do.

1 comment:

Garth said...

I have a friend who teaches tech classes in a local public high school. He is at constant war with his IT department. Simple things like they insist on having the latest upgrades of software (high level drafting software), but the computers are not upgraded to the level needed to run the software. He tells them to not do the upgrades because the computers will not run the upgrade. He is only a teacher so he is ignored His computers can take as long as 15 minutes to boot. They tell him that is his problem, they did their job. IT is support, if it is not supporting it should be replaced. As the IT guy it is my job to do everything in my power to ensure the teachers have what they want. It is work. Any IT department without that attitude needs to be rebuilt with a new staff. There is a balancing act but in my opinion that balance has to be towards the students and the teachers, not the convenience of the IT department.

I am a member of the Montana tech net, a network of all the school techs. It amazes me what some "can not" do. In almost every case it is more of a "won't" do because it would involve doing some work. The Chromebook is a hot item in schools. It is not the price (I can buy laptops for the same price), it is that they are easier for the IT department to manage. Not a good reason.

I admit I do cheat a bit. I solved my lab access issues by requiring the programming students to either BYOD or borrow a laptop from the school for the year. I make them administrators so they can install what they want. If I am going to use particular software, they have to install it. It is theirs. It goes home with them. In the summer I just re-image them. It does not take something fancy to do 99% of the software I teach with so I take in donated laptops and do a little refurbishing and give them to the kids to keep.

There are solutions to almost all IT issues that come up with teaching CS. They just take a willingness to solve them and a little imagination.

It may be hard to notice but I get a bit hot over this topic.