Questioning Code Year
I wish that Code Year was 2013 and 2012 was “some smart people with good ideas and a lot of money built took the time to build great pedagogically-driven tool to really solve an existing problem for folks who want and need training in this area.”
So is it me, or is Code Year just Codecademy on a calendar? Oh, and they started to use Meetup. I don’t really see what their $2.5M round is buying yet, let alone how they’re going to make it back. Maybe I just need to be patient. But Code Year is already launched.
Zooming out, I see Code Year as a small (and perhaps overexposed) part of a larger overall movement that includes MIT’s OpenCourseware, Khan Academy, and the Stanford AI and ML courses. There are serious questions about how well this kind of stuff works. But it looks like the train is leaving the station, so we might as well start figuring out how to point the tracks not off a cliff.
Bloomberg says he’s going to do it:
And now the White House is partnering with Codecademy to create something called “Code Summer+” which I predict will yet again repackage Codecademy courses without addressing questions of instructional design and pedagogy.
Then there’s this inconvenient little point:
Today the White House officially endorsed the *for-profit* company codecademy. Well at least it's not Halliburton!—
(@zedshaw) January 18, 2012
While the business model hasn’t been revealed yet, Union Square Ventures also hasn’t come out to say that the seed round was actually a charitable donation. It certainly does make things confusing.
But wait — I’m a public high school computer science teacher. Why am I complaining about any of this? I see why Zed Shaw might be
bitter pissed, but I’m not trying to sell any books about programming. (Update: Zed Shaw clarifies his position and says Codecademy’s failings actually drive readers to him. Which is fine. My point is just that he makes money in the same business space as Codecademy, where I have zero financial stake in any of this, so why the hell do I care who is getting a boost from Obama?)
My answer echos some of Julie’s comments: I love that there’s an effort to make people more aware of CS and an effort to help more people get into it. I worry that these efforts significantly misrepresent the challenge of learning CS concepts, and put too much faith in people learning on their own. It’s not like the resources and reference materials haven’t been out there on the internet the whole time. Is the problem really that people need game mechanics to help them learn? Or is the problem that this stuff is hard to learn without someone in real life helping you?
Now the idea that folks might just start getting together, outside of traditional institutions, to help struggle through the hard parts is inspiring. We might really be able to move beyond the traditional model of education. But then how do we know the learning is real? As usual, Bruce Sterling called it a couple years out. He wrote a piece for Wired called Favela Chic education back in 2009 whose conclusion was basically, “Who cares about proving it?” So come on, let’s just start learning how to program already! We’re not going to get to the future by sitting around reading and writing blog posts!
OK, but one more wrinkle before we get back on our social networks to check if any of our friends have learned any new skills in the last 5 minutes: Justin Reich just gave a talk entitled “Will Free Benefit the Rich? How Free and Open Education Might Widen Digital Divides”. It’s worth considering the possibility that the efforts being made here, including the projects endorsed by the White House, may have exactly the opposite of the intended effect.
I can’t predict the future. But as a person who spends my days helping kids learn computer science, I can tell you this: People are not going to stop getting stuck on tricky concepts. They’re tricky. People are not going to stop needing expert help and guidance. They don’t know what they don’t know. Unless the online self-learning initiatives and businesses start to take this into account, start to take research seriously, and start to test solutions, a lot of venture capital and venture philanthropy money is going to end up burned. And after all that, we’re still going to need more programmers.