13 January 2012

Can Codecademy Save the World?

We are socializing, working, consuming, and living in a world increasingly defined by programs. Learning to code is the best way to understand what all those programs do, or even to recognize that they are there in the first place...Just a couple of years ago, I was getting blank stares or worse when I would suggest to colleagues and audiences that they learn code, or else. "Program or be programmed," became my mantra...If you know how to code, you can get a high-paying job right now, or make valuable stuff right now. You will understand more about how the world works, and become a participating member in the digital society unfolding before us...

...while learning to code may have once been an arduous or expensive process, the college dropouts who developed Codecademy have democratized coding as surely as Gutenberg democratized text. Anyone can go to Codecademy and start learning and creating code through their simple, fun, interactive window, for free. _CNN Douglas Rushkoff, Media Theorist
Doug Rushkoff is not the first tech enthusiast to be gushing about Codecademy, and he will not be the last. You may want to go to Codecademy and try out a few exercises, just to get a feel for what is going on there.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of critics of Codecademy who see the project -- for all its early success -- eventually coming to a bad end, like many similar projects in the past. Scott Gray worked on a very similar "free coding tutorial" project a number of years ago, and provides a number of pointed comments regarding Codecademy and computer tutorials in general. Scott also has some criticism for Khan Academy's approach to pedagogy, so he is not afraid of speaking his mind.

Before you dismiss Gray's criticisms as those of a frustrated competitor whose similar early efforts did not work out, you should probably read this extended blog posting which relates the development and evolution of Scott's ideas on teaching practises (pedagogy), and what kinds of pedagogical approaches he is offering as alternatives to Codecademy and Khan Academy.

Scott Gray's emphasis is math pedagogy using software and teacher coaching. But he comes at math from a different direction than almost all other US educators. Scott rejects the traditional formulaic (or "algorithmic") approach to teaching and learning math, in favour of a more exploratory, experimental, and individual creative "pattern-forming" approach to learning and using mathematical concepts.

The exploratory approach to math that Scott promotes in his work has a long history, and is more widely used in math pedagogy in some countries other than the US. It is an approach that trains the intuition to "feel" and manipulate the mathematics internally in a dynamic manner. The approach is certainly different to the one that Khan Academy uses, and Gray explains the difference in his two articles linked above.

As for Codecademy, Gray has other criticisms of the newly popular website which should be considered carefully. Certainly Gray is not the same sort of Codecademy booster that Doug Rushkoff seems to be.

The truth in this case would seem to be somewhere in between. Codecademy allows for some quick and easy experimentation with basic computer coding methods. But it has important limitations, which may not be clear to the novice coder at first glance. Gray provides a service by pointing out that a new coder who completes the Codecademy series is still likely to be at a loss if placed in a programming environment in the real world. Perhaps Codecademy will move beyond these limitations in the near future.

In the future we will look at some of these new trends in pedagogy (mastery learning, adaptive learning, exploratory learning etc), and attempt to predict how they will bring about particular changes in how human brains will work in the future. Changes which will make the "Flynn Effect" seem trivial in comparison.


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Blogger SwampWoman said...

Oh, thanks! I'm going to go explore that website as soon as I'm awake enough for my eyelids to stay open.

Saturday, 14 January, 2012  
Blogger MRWW said...

I have done a fair bit of online market research in creating my own courses http://codeavengers.com

Those who seem to get the most out of CodeCademy are those who already know another programming language.

Almost all who are completely new to programming, get stuck pretty quickly with CodeCademy. That is where http://codeavengers.com shines.

My courses are designed from the ground up with the total beginner in mind. All the feedback I have got so far is that my courses are better for total beginners than CodeCademy. If anyone cares to disagree, please send me a message!

Tuesday, 14 August, 2012  

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