Tag Archives: big picture

Should Older Adults Learn to Code?

Should older adults learn to code? No, but should they have a familiarity with what code is, does, and how it does it? Yes.

Coding education discussions are mainly about teaching code in K-12. Those who support including coding say that the aim is not to make everyone into a program developer (although that’s a great career).  Rather, for most, learning what makes a program or computer work is part of becoming a knowledgeable and contributing citizen in the technology world.

I believe that’s also true for adults learning Technology As A Second Language℠. If you use any form of technology such as emailing, talking on a cell phone, texting, or paying bills online, then understanding the basics of what makes it run will make it less intimidating and might even make it enjoyable to use.

Knowing something about coding is like knowing something about how the machines and systems you have been interacting with for years work. You probably know that your car has a mechanical engine with an alternator, pistons, oil filter… your stove is connected to a gas line lit by a pilot light…you put your money in the bank, you can withdraw but it’s not the same money, it’s invested…

Learning about how technology runs, is the same thing. If we didn’t know how things work, then we would be like much earlier generations who believed in magic and superstition. So, if magic doesn’t make it possible for you to write and send emails, what does?

In one of Khan Academy’s programming courses, they compare coding or programming to giving commands to your dog. You say “sit” and the dog sits. What the dog does looks nothing like the word “sit” just like a computer command usually has little resemblance to what it engenders.

Of course, code is not as simple as dog commands. When educators talk about code they mean any language of letters and symbols that can be written as program commands to cause action in a digital format such as games and software. There are many code languages including Java, Python, and Go.

Learning “some” coding means that there is no prescibed time you need to spend or material you need learn in order to make yourself more comfortable with technology. Just do what works for you. Here are a few of the many free resources:

  • What is Code? by Paul Ford  This is a tongue-in-cheek explanation of everything about computers including coding and intergenerational work issues. It doesn’t give you practical experience. Still, it provides in-depth explanations and a great read.
  • Khan Academy Click on Subjects, then Computing. You will find interactive courses in Computing that are geared towards children, but that can be advantageous for beginners.
  • Codecademy Interactive full or brief courses will take you through coding step-by-step.
  • Code.org  has great short lessons. They are also student-oriented but appealing to many adults who are curious about coding.

Learning about code will make you more confident and less reluctant to learn new applications. It may also turn you into an active participant in conversations with the technology generation.

TSL℠: Do You Speak It?

I’ve specialized in applying learning principles to print content in higher education for over twenty-five years. Of late, the major part of my focus has been working with technical people to transition from print texts to digital.

I’ve participated in conventions, webinars, courses, meetups, and anything that will get me quickly up to speed in the digital world. I couldn’t have started this blog without a class I took from Molly Ford at General Assembly. (Thank you, Molly.)  All of this re-education has contributed to my continuing success.

My most recent learning adventure involved signing up for the edX MOOC, Design and Development of Games taught by Eric Klopfer, MIT. I got through the first two weeks, overcoming significant challenges including learning Gameblox so I could create a simple game in which a sprite knocked out coins. I felt empowered.

Then I hit Week 3. After five hours of watching videos, reading assigned materials, and getting a review of narrative video games from Jordan, my daughter’s fiancé, my head was exploding. Still, I felt confident that in the morning I would be able to do the assignment: analyze a video game.

Only I couldn’t. Even after reviewing, Mitgutsch and Alvarado’s Serious Games Design Assessment Framework, a very much needed construct. When I tried to apply it to a game, my mind went blank. Why? Very simply, I was too new to the genre. I needed to spend a lot more time playing and experiencing games before I could analyze them.

Somehow this realization started me thinking about my parents who came to America after surviving the Holocaust.  I remembered their accented speech and that sometimes I had to translate official letters and documents for them. No matter how much they assimilated they would always be immigrants, non-native speakers.

Then it hit me, now I am an immigrant, an immigrant in technology land and like any immigrant, I have to learn and keep learning a new language, TSL℠(Technology As A Second Language℠). Does that make me a second-class citizen or in this case, a second-class digital educator? I remember a story Anna Frajlich, a Polish immigrant and poet, told me about an early ESL course she took:

Anna’s assignment was to write about a story she had read. She chose to discuss Franz Kafka’s The Trial in which the main character is referred to as Joseph K. or K. When she got her essay back, her ESL teacher had commented that her English was improving, but “in America, we write out last names.”

The ESL teacher’s ignorance is a reminder that even if something does not immediately make sense in the digital world, it can still make sense and add value. If we accept that learning from each other across cultures is positive, then learning across education generations is a no-brainer. Native speakers and non-native speakers dialoguing and collaborating can only strengthen the digital education landscape.

Education Models Evolve

In Audrey Watters’ essay, The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education,’ she provides an insightful analysis of recent statements by respected leaders for change in education. According to them, the Western education system is based on an outdated factory model stemming from industrialization and consequently, it needs to be replaced. Watters makes a cogent argument that this assumption is untrue based on historical facts.

I agree. It is true that the goals and maybe even the mechanics  of industrialization became intertwined with American education by the late 20th century.  But it took a long time to standardize the system.  For example, in 19th century rural America, the major purpose of multi-age one-room schoolhouses (about 200,000 of them) was to make people feel more connected to an emerging nation, to teach them the responsibilities of living in a democratic society. There was no resemblance to industrialization.

During Reconstruction, schooling was very important to African Americans; learning to read and write had been denied them as slaves. Education was the first step towards equality. In urban areas, schooling was mostly enjoyed by the elite until child-labor laws were seriously enforced in the 1920’s and 30’s allowing working-class children to take full advantage of public education. Until then, most children were “industrialized” through apprenticeships and early work years, not schools.

Watters cautions:

We tend to not see automation today as mechanization as much as algorithmization–the promise and potential in artificial intelligence and virtualization, as if this magically makes these new systems of standardization and control lighter and liberatory.

And so too we’ve invented a history of the “factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade”–to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.

In other words, just because we have a new format in technology does not mean that its content will set us free. Accredited education will always involve the passing on of societal values and goals.

However, I would not be so quick to say that with technology solutions teachers will be replaced as education influencers. Many EdTech startups are depending on teachers to create content and pedagogy that work in digital programs.

We need engineers and instructional designers to lead in technology. Developers admit that they are far from creating education technology that is scalable—cost- and learning- effective. They want to work with educators and government agencies to “make it happen.”

How we educate students and who has control will depend on how well experienced educators, technology experts, and government agencies can collaborate for the common good—an old but still valid concept.  Let’s not allow the high speed of technology push any of us into premature interpretations, predictions, and solutions. Let’s not jump from the exaggerated gloom and doom interpretations of the past to gloom and doom predictions for the future.

Failing is for Everyone

The world of entrepreneurs is running hot these days. Innovation is at the heart of entrepreneurship and to be successful that innovation must fill a need. Successful innovators identify a problem to solve.  Examples: Venmo, an electronic wallet app (Wouldn’t it be great if, after a shared dinner, we could pay each other back through our phones?), Tinder, a quick dating app (Wouldn’t it be easier to just hook up with people without all the requirements of on-line dating?), or Teachley, an EdTech company basing programs on cognitive science (How can teachers use app data to make faster, better decisions about student learning needs?).

Entrepreneurs know that they should “fail fast” because it’s a waste of time and money working on something that ultimately is not going to succeed. Entrepreneurs work fast, hard, and cheaply to create basic prototypes called MVP’s (Minimally Viable Products) that they can try out on friends, family, and market segments to find out quickly: Is this a product that people want? Will this work? How can I make it better? The product may or may not turn out to be something to pursue.

To an entrepreneur, failure is part of the process, often a badge of honor. Many successful entrepreneurs include “I failed X times and I learned from my failures” in their speeches to help motivate others. Success follows from failure if you are able to accept failure and learn from it.

Learning is a personal process of innovation. When you learn, you encounter, try out, and adapt new knowledge and ways of thinking. So why are students punished for failure: bad grades, not getting a diploma, embarrassment. Those who fail consistently often develop a form of learned helplessness: Psychologists have found that if people fail enough times without understanding, they will just give up trying. School for many children is a dead end of failing or a deflating experience of average accomplishment.

How can we turn students into learning entrepreneurs, learning from their mistakes, and trying again? One way is through transparency. We should incorporate ongoing review with students of their learning pathways. Explain how learning A leads to B. When they fail A, suggest other ways to get to B.

Another solution is to make problem solving and hard work the center of learning. Carol Dweck, Stanford University, has shown colossally positive results with children in failing schools by changing their attitudes to a “growth mindset,” a belief that abilities are not fixed, they can be developed through investing time and energy.

In her TEDx talk, Dweck gives an example of a Chicago school where students who fail are given a “not yet” rather than an F. The “not yet” signals that they are on a trajectory, they are on a journey. Failure is not a stop; it’s not a reason to give up. It’s just a bump in the road. Figure out how to get past it and you will keep moving forward. That’s a lesson we all should learn.

Read more on what educators can learn from entrepreneurial perspective on failure in Kathleen Parker’s Washington Post article, “How we succeed by failing.”