Monday, October 25, 2004

education as bricolage

Given this week's concentration on education, I asked attendees of the conference I am currently attending (UIST) who have a computer science background the following question: "What are the one or two most important influences on your learning the theory and practice of programming?" By and large, respondents said that instructors, TAs, and books were the most influential influences on their learning theory (e.g., algorithms, data structures, etc.) and mostly example code (from the Internet and open-source software) and to a lesser extent peer groups and books were the most influential for practice (e.g., writing programs that compile and run). Intuitively, it seems that computer science more than other disciplines might be amenable to online education, and these results suggest that most programmers feel that they mostly taught themselves from miscellaneous sources with the help of a few mentors. This seems similar to the model proposed by Brown and Duguid in "The Social Life of Information." Are classes and peer groups relatively irrelevant for teaching computer science (Georgia Tech banned all group projects to promote better individual assessment not too long ago)? Do other domains fit this model?


Blogger yardi said...

I agree that cs is amenable to online education. I took a few cs classes in undergrad and then worked as a programmer for two years and feel that I learned far more in the latter two years. My approach was to google something that I didn't know which usually resulted in me surfing sites such as devshed, devguru, devlib, etc. If I found only a single matching answer to my search, I would usually ignore it, but if there were a couple of different opinions on how to approach a problem, I'd take the one that I was most familiar with or a common denominator of all the approaches and use that.
With that said, there should be an argument for gaining some formal education in cs, if only to equip one to go into the online world and find answers independently.
Tech books are useful as an introduction to a language but rarely after that point, but that may be because it is so much easier to search online than to flip through pages. I have found Safari Tech Books Online very helpful - it combines authoritative code sources with fast searching.

9:29 AM  

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