One of the things that really grinds my gears, and I heard it again yesterday, was that “there are so many computer programming jobs that are currently unfilled and therefore we need to be teaching coding to every student in every class”.
It’s not that I don’t see the value in learning to program. I absolutely see it and always have. It’s the inference that introducing something now will fill those jobs. Absolutely, it’s true that there will be some people that end up programming for a living. But there are so many other benefits; taking control over your devices, understanding how to trouble-shoot, how to think your way to a solution, how to document whatever technology solution you have, …
I’ve been doing a map theme this week so stay with me as I continue.
My car has a navigation system built into it. Sync by Microsoft. In addition, I have Google Maps on my phone and will set the destination on both devices when headed to a new location.
Because I can.
It does irritate my wife but I think it’s kind of cool to have both devices talking to me offering instructions about how to get where I’m going. I typically have both set to get us there as quickly as possible. My wife asks a good question.
Why are they telling us different directions?
That’s a really good question.
In a world of right answers and wrong answers, it’s counter-intuitive that there might be more than one right answer. My response? I went all computer science on her. I explained that there are probably two different algorithms for calculating the route, the maps in the car would be as up to date as to when it was installed – we have a round-about at the end of the 401 in Windsor that isn’t on the map so we’re marked “off route” and drive through a field. Google Maps is constantly updated and so is working on better data and reports us as being on the road. Google Maps is also aware of traffic congestion and slowdowns. I could buy a module for the car I suppose but I’m too cheap!
But the key is that the solutions come from two different companies and so it should come as no surprise that there might be two different algorithms for finding the fastest route. I remember an assignment at university where we were to design an algorithm and then code a solution to navigate our way through a two-dimensional maze filled with 1s and 0s. A 1 indicated a roadway and a 0 indicated something other than a roadway. The maze was filled with roads that went in different directions, including dead-ends. The only thing that we were assured of was that there was at least one way to get through the maze. I remember it as a big head banger and no two of us had exactly the same solution. Looking back now, I can appreciate the problem as being the type that I really like. It celebrates the fact that the solution isn’t cookie-cutter and honours individual design and solution.
When you think about it, those of us in the class had a number of roles. We were designers, data creators, algorithm designers, programmers, testers, documenters, and quality control people. These equate to today’s teams of people that do all of the above. Not all of them are programmers! Yet, all have to understand how to solve the problem and to be able to communicate their part of the project to others.
If only there was one right answer to a problem! If there was, we wouldn’t need designers or thinkers or, yes, coders.
All of this should inform our thinking and planning for learning and activity that promote thinking, problem solving, making, creating and not just following a simple coding script.
Then, there’s this.
We talk about “thinking outside the box”. Check out this – Google Maps is working on a BIG new feature that means you’ll never get lost again
When you think about it, it makes so much sense but it takes some innovative thinking to make it happen. I’ve lived in Essex County for so long now but I still don’t know the difference between Wyandotte Street and University Avenue. Or, College Street, for that matter. (hint – it’s nowhere near the college) But if you gave me directions that involved turning right at the University of Windsor Welcome Centre, I know exactly what you mean!
This wouldn’t be possible if we stopped with the one correct answer. Yes, there will be the coders that make it happen, but there will be lots of others who make it possible. They’re all thinkers. That is the important thing.