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?