CSEd Week has run for several years now, but the 2013 instantiation last week was amazing. Millions of Americans got a taste of coding, significant public policy changed, and celebrities raised the profile of computing education. CEO Hadi Partovi, COO Cameron Wilson, Pat Yongpradit, and the rest of the Code.org team orchestrated a national event that made many more people aware of the challenges in computing education.
Code.org promoted an "Hour of Code" for the 2013 CSEd Week with a goal of getting Americans to simply try an hour of coding. (Philip Guo talked about his experiences with the "Hour of Code" in a middle school classroom earlier in Blog@CACM.) Since only about 1 of every 12 high schools in the United States has a computer science teacher, most American school children never even see programming, never even see what program code might look like. Code.org gathered dozens of tutorials to support "Hour of Code" activities, and created videos of celebrities, politicians, and athletes talking about coding. The week launched with a remarkable video from US President Barack Obama encouraging all Americans to learn to code. All told, Code.org estimates over 15 million people participated in the "Hour of Code."
Important public policy announcements were timed to coincide with CSEd Week:
To end the week, Alabama became the 16th state to count computer science towards high school graduation requirements.
All the buzz about CSEd Week led to a variety of interesting op-ed pieces. The Boston Globe called for more computer science classes, but after-school, not part of the normal school day. In contrast, others talked about how making CS a requirement was necessary to get more women and under-represented minorities into computing (see also this Washington Post article making a similar argument).
Not all of op-ed pieces were supportive. Jeff Atwood was quoted in a Wired article saying, "I would no more urge everyone to learn programming than I would urge everyone to learn plumbing." The Wire ran an article title, "No, Mr. President, not everyone needs to learn how to code." There is this strange pushback from some programmers about students learning to code. I was reminded of Jeannette Wing's article from here in Blog@CACM, "Yes, Computer Scientists Are Hypercritical."
An "Hour of Code" doesn't solve the problems of computing education. There are still too few women and under-represented minority students in CS classes. We still have too few teachers. But awareness of a problem is the first step to addressing it, and CSEd Week 2013 made many more people aware of the issues of computing education in the United States.
We had a great "Hour of Code" week at my children's primary school in Canada. It was really fun to see 8-10 year olds discover programming, many for the first time, and love it. We are not trying to convert everyone into programmers, but if a few kids who didn't know it is an option decide to pursue it then that is a great accomplishment.
I read Jeff Atwood's comments from May 2012 and he just got it wrong. Code is not a sacred cow and coding is not the purview of CS grads. Coding at some level will be required for the majority of people to take advantage of the increasing amount of information at their disposal.
I say hooray to ACM and Code.org for getting it together and demystifying programming for millions of people, no matter what their job. We'll be carrying on with it at our school and our local Coderdojo (.com) get together too!
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