User + Control

Is the desire for control increasing or decreasing?

We said “Users of technology are increasingly seeking to find ways to program what they are using and exercise control over what it does and how it performs”. Perhaps we should now rephrase this and say “We wish users of technology would increasingly seek ….” Nevertheless, you only need to look at the number of DVD recorders, etc., with the clocks flashing on 12:00 to see that the average person has no interest at all in trying to work out how to program even the basic functionality of the device they own. There seems little likelihood that this will change in the near future. Technology companies such as Apple are also pushing this trend in the reverse direction by locking users into an increasingly closed ecosystem with ever simpler plug-and-play architectures that reduce further the need for users to tweak or tinker with the setup.

The demand for programming experience

We stated that one of the drivers for this trend would be a “demand for programming experience”. While there is an increasing demand for experience in this area, this has not resulted in an increasing number of people wanting to move into this type of work. In fact, there are increasing concerns about the lack of skilled workers in the IT sector, and a reduction in the number of students deciding to train in related fields:

These shortages are such that companies like Google will sometimes opt to purchase a software company purely to get access to their talented developers.

Education's role

What are the implications for schools?

Some schools are running some excellent programmes to encourage students into programming and development, including getting students to establish their own development companies to deliver real products and services to customers. Many schools, however, still follow a very 'consumer’based ICT curriculum which does nothing more that teach students how to be users of applications. All schools need to be asking how they can engage more students in computer science related subjects and activities.

Schools don’t need to be responsible for developing content around this, or even providing the subject expertise. There are now a number of free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) available from well-known universities like Stanford and MIT that students of any age can enrol in. For example:

It is not only schools that need to try and reverse this trend. Universities also need to get students engaged in order to reduce the trend of falling numbers in their computer science programmes. The likes of Canterbury University are doing some good work in this area with the STAR courses that they offer into secondary schools, and also in the work of one of their lecturers, Tim Bell, and his Computer Science Unplugged programme. If you have not seen it already, then this resource offers great hands-on activities that teach computer science using cards, string, crayons, and lots of running around.

The IT industry's role

The IT industry also has a part to play. If IT companies want students to chose programming and related fields as a career, then they need to also help reverse the trend and change the face of the industry to make it appealing to more young people. The New Zealand Institute for IT Professionals has recognised this need and has launched the ICT Connect Programme to try and achieve just that.

So, with schools, universities, and industry working together, hopefully, in the near future we can list User + Control again, and this time get it right as an upward trend.

What do you think?

What do you you think educators should be doing to encourage young people into computer science related fields?