by Liza Loop
Does everyone need to know how to program a computer? This is a question we have been addressing at LO*OP Center since its inception in 1975. My answer has always been a strong “yes and no”. Yes, everyone needs to understand enough about how a computer is programmed to believe the old saying “garbage in – garbage out”. The easiest way to get this knowledge into an individual’s belief system is to give him or her the experience of writing a very simple program that puts a piece of patently inaccurate information into a computer and delivers it to anyone who look at the screen or printout. Will everyone need to write computer programs to hold down a job, raise a family or participate in civic life? No. In many cases writing code is a low-level skill within the computer industry. Today there may be strong demand for coders but in the long run coding is a dead-end skill if not accompanied by design, analytical and/or management abilities.
The computer literacy debate continues to rage even after more than 40 years. A recent article is Education week, “Teaching Computer Science Is Great, But It’s Not Enough”
It recapitulates my own point of view that our emphasis should be on understanding the impact of computing on society. The proponents of the international movement, Hour of Code, emphasize learning to program as the most important place to start. I worry that participants in this project who decide that coding is not their cup of tea will lose all interest in the field before they get the real message:
we must teach children not just to think about how to design and program a particular technology, but to consider its potential role and impact on society – Sullivan & Denner
For a contemporary look at the Computer Literacy Debate you might want to follow Computing Education Blog by computer science professor Mark Guzdial. For an historical perspective check out HCLE’s “exhibit-in-progress”. And don’t hesitate to add your own point of view here or on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.