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Teaching with Internet – asking the right questions

“Here are a few problems from upper year class that you don’t understand. A computer terminal with Internet access, and a couple of hours to come up with solutions… Go!”

Today I’ve discovered a relativly old, yet very applicable and fascinating article. The premisis is pretty simple:

“An Indian physicist puts a PC with a high speed internet connection in a wall in the slums and watches what happens. Based on the results, he talks about issues of digital divide, computer education and kids, the dynamics of the third world getting online.”

In this blog of a blog of a summary of a story… I try to exctract some interesting facts, and the most applicable points.

“The only reaction we got from adults was, “What on earth is this for? Why is there no one here to teach us something? How are we ever going to use this?” I contend that by the time we are 16, we are taught to want teachers, taught that we cannot learn anything without teachers.”

This is a very important point to consider as from personal experience, and from that of many others I have talked to, I came to realize that the vast majority of Computer Science knowledge has been aquired outside of the classroom. Ultimately this is because:

“What is important is infrastructure and access … The teacher’s job is very simple. It’s to help the children ask the right questions.”

Indeed, learning is about the right motivation. Internet has a lot of resourses out there, such as Wikipedia’s Wikiversity. Given access to information, time and enough interest, a student could solve problems years ahead of the program.

All of that being said, a couple of recent posts on CompSci.ca forums have brought up the issue of what kind of help should be provided to computer science students. One of the most popular forums is Turing Programming Help, with over 4000 topics on what is largly a programming language for highschool learning. Myself, and the rest of the moderator team will continue to excersise a teacher’s simple job – get students to ask the right questions and learn to solve problems. We will point to resources – the Turing Walkthrough, Tutorials, or hints to where else to look. It’s website’s policy not to post solutions to obvious homework assignments, but let the students learn how to arrive at the solution on their own.

So in an attempt to spark some enthusiasm, have you tried out Ruby yet? It’s a very spiffy programming language.

– Tony

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