Saturday, February 27, 2010

When Does Technology Education Become Required?

Strong education about technology remains woefully behind. Here's a stark example:

To graduate with a Letters, Arts, and Sciences degree from the UC system (or most colleges), you are required to takes courses in physical and life sciences. You are required to study language, society, history, culture, and the arts.

But you are not required to study technology-- not a single course is required.

So each year a huge population of college students still graduate with barely a clue about the technology concepts and languages that will powerfully shape their work, their play, and their lives.

Seems like a relatively easy thing to fix.


  1. Or maybe not.

    To be fair, the tools of the high-tech trade are still in flux.

    Granted, the use of and science behind simple machines (levers, pulleys, inclined planes, "the wheel") was a 6th grade topic in my day (thanks Ms. Nancy Evans!), but the technologies have also been around for some thousands of years.

    As a professional geek, I still consider far more important on a daily basis those same logical reasoning and critical thinking skills that were honed authoring papers on philosophical quandaries, historical/forensic analysis of current events, and translation of ideas from and into foreign languages, as well as long nights solving arcane problems for classes in the pure mathematical and physical sciences.

    There are of course still shop classes and chem labs, but not everyone needs to know how to fix her own car and make his own penicillin, and not every college graduate needs to takes those classes.

    I remember classes covering punch cards, magnetic tape devices, and the ubiquitous microfiche of the public library system for information storage and retrieval. How do we pick which languages (Python or Ruby?) should be part of the standard curriculum?

    Did I get value out of my Lisp class? Absolutely.

    Would I like everyone to have a firm grasp of how software like the NCSA browser and IPv4 has already changed their lives? Sure, it might make those phone calls a little easier when they want to know why "the Internet" is down.

    Maybe driving school is a eventually going to be a good idea for the information superhighway, but I don't think we're quite ready to set license requirements for surfing any webs. ($.02)

  2. Hi xPaul,

    Some nice thoughts, thanks.

    But I would argue that the "tools of the trade" remain "in flux" for all sciences, social sciences, and trades. And that doesn't stop us from teaching them.

    Is technology more "in flux"? Of course. But I'm arguing that since technology will have profound influence on almost every person's life from now on, they should have some comfort and familiarity. This includes doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics, journalists, linguists, etc...since all of their tools are now computer-driven.

    I'm not argiung that everyone take programming classes. But there are many others ways to teach about technology-- and at least understanding the basics of technology and computer technology seems essential.

    I think that young people today will potentially suffer a big disadvantage if they enter the work world with technology illiteracy.

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