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January 6, 2009 / Ben Chun


Talking with some friends last night, I remembered an interesting idea that’s been kicking around my head for a few months now. First some background: Educators are always talking about authentic audience as an important factor in motivating students and helping them contextualize their work. This “authentic audience” — that is, someone aside from teachers or parents, someone not morally obligated to listen to a kid go on about their work — is usually a key component of project-based learning. My experiences bringing in people from outside the school to help give feedback to students have all been very positive.

So what’s the most authentic audience for a computer programmer? I’d say it’s a paying contract client. And with Elance, oDesk, and guru all providing an online marketplace for contract programming work, this seems like an interesting opportunity. What if I were to search these sites, find some kind of easy Java job, bid low on a relatively long timeframe, and then restructure the work that needs to be done so that it becomes a programming project for my students?

I’m scared to try this, thinking of all the ways it could blow up in my face, but also oddly unable to stop thinking about it. I wonder if it there’s any ethical requirement (or educational reason) to tell the client. I wonder if anyone else has ever tried this. I mean, what could go wrong?



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  1. ian / Jan 6 2009 6:12 pm

    Hm… what could go wrong…

    (cue: swirling music and we see a montage of STUDENTS in a conference er… class room, writing on a white board, BEN gesturing with his hands, explaining something, STUDENTS working feverishly at computers…) FADE OUT

    Rapid sequence of scenarios, each up from black.

    SCENE: non-descript, wood-paneled office.
    BUREAUCRAT pokes a writing pad with his pen and speaks authoritatively into the telephone. Splitscreen with BEN, who is supervising an orderly high school lunch period.
    “Mr Chun, I’m Gus Dancey from the State Labor Commission, Child-labor division…” BEN looks up to see two HALL MONITORS approach with stern, intent looks on their faces.

    SCENE: a homey, quaint kitchen.
    A PERTURBED PARENT is standing by a wall-phone in a family home kitchen. A YOUNG GIRL’s laptop is open on the kitchen table, showing lines of elegant, formatted code. A large red “A+ AND $200 bonus!” is photoshopped in the upper corner. She looks embarrassed that her father is on the phone.
    “Mr. Chun, I’m Erica’s father and I understand you’ve been having her work on a project for [REDACTED] and I’m very concerned about…”

    SCENE: Principal’s Office
    HIGH SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR hangs up a phone, stands up from his desk and walks over to his office door and pauses for a moment to collect himself. He has no choice. He opens the door and we see BEN standing next to some file cabinets, obviously waiting for him. Teh Secretary looks sympathetic. A $100 bill is hanging out of her sweater pocket. As BEN walks in, ADMINISTRATOR puts his arm around Ben’s shoulder and gently taps him on the back as he gestures for BEN to take a seat.
    “Ben, I’m sorry to have to do this, but your experiment has gotten way out of control. This isn’t Stanford! You can just whore your students out to corporations, no matter how financially successful your “team” is. They’re students, Ben! The PTA is demanding a percentage, a few parents are raising hell and I’ve got reporters at my house! I’m left with little choice, but we can’t have you on staff any longer…” BEN turns to see the HALL MONITORS looming ominously.

    SCENE: Outside a San Francisco warehouse.
    Muted beats suggest a wild party rages inside. BEN is carrying a box full of tracks into a thumpin’ party when he notices something vibrating in his pants. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cellphone and looks at it.

    Closeup of cellphone in hand. TEXT MESSAGE reads:
    “Net dn + PC Xd. can’t wrk. sry! c u Mon, Tch!”

    SCENE: Laundromat, it’s late.
    BEN is folding his laundry when the cell rings. Split screen with YOUNG TECH ENTREPRENEUR FRIEND OF BEN’s:
    “Hi Ben, it’s [REDACTED]. Listen, we HAVE to launch on Tuesday. I’m sorry for whatever’s come up has slowed your progress, but if it’s not done on TUESDAY…”

    SCENE: BEN’s home office.
    BEN, late at night, staring intently at a computer screen, studying lines of computer code. He looks for a while, then taps a few keystrokes, hits “refresh”, waits and then curses. He continues intently reading code…

    SCENE: Classroom.
    BEN in front of a classroom of STUDENTS, writing some kind of flowchart/diagram on the board.
    “So hypothetically, if you were to have a requirements list that say, included shopping cart integration, a chat client, cross-platform functionality and XML-RPC…”


  2. KC / Jan 9 2009 5:35 pm

    What Ian said…

    …but I can see where it would stick in your head.

    I think the client has to know.

    So form a hacker ‘club’ to keep it at arms length from the classroom. Extra credit to the kids who volunteer and do the work. Contract directly from the client to the club. Have the proceeds split between the club and the PTA.

    Or is that total buzzkill?

  3. KC / Jan 9 2009 5:36 pm

    For that matter, f-@^ the $$$ and let the kids pick some OS project and … contribute.

  4. Nathan Ramos / Feb 8 2009 5:25 pm


    just offer it as a voluneer only thing, and then assign extra credit possiblities with good development…it would work, and what student doesnt love extra credit?

    tell them that the proceeds from it will go to the school’s supply/academic funds, and see if the adminsitration will work with it?



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