Monday, December 2, 2013

ICT and Computer Science Education

Wow! I've been watching a discussion on MS Office 365 for a while now. The discussion is around MS's "sudden" decision to offer MS Office 365 to students... Free of charge!

There's a couple of amazingly bad things going on here. Microsoft haven't just decided to give it away. It's their ONLY choice. They're losing market share to Google quite rapidly. It's also no where near free. Imagine that our schools didn't have a deal with MS. Given that it's free, would that mean the student devices could have it free of charge but the schools couldn't? Here's their problem:

As the world moves further to a 1:1 world (one device to every child), and the costs of that are distributed out - i.e. it's not the schools who own the devices anymore - MS Office 365 just didn't make any sense as those devices still couldn't access it. The solution? Make a great big song and dance about being all altruistic! It's a PR opportunity but one that if you look at it closely enough, kind of misses the point.

In a BYOD (Bring your own device) world, the student should be in charge of the type of device they bring (I would put financial qualifiers in here. It makes more sense in low income areas for bulk purchasing deals to be sought in order to make it affordable) which allows them to pick the device that works for them best (or more likely, allows them to treat devices as status symbols). Which means that, while Office 365 has some properties of a cloud application, on the client side, it doesn't run solely in the browser. Which means that the devices that you can use Office 365 on are in the control of MS. MS gets to dictate which devices you can and can't use if you chose to go with a MS Office environment.

And then there's the douchiness that is the ribbon interface. Does it feel intuitive to anyone or have you all just gotten used to it? My theory is that it's there to create a switching cost. Think about it. The learning curve between MS Office pre-ribbon and any other office application was relatively low. Sure, you might get a little mixed up when looking for "Page Setup" but those were small things. Nowadays you have to learn the MS interface independently of other office suites.

But all of that aside. What really has me riled up is the fact that educators are talking about it's relevance in relation to computer science and ICT. Why are we training people to be a bunch of secretaries? Especially when we deal with computer science.. there's so much more to be had there.

The really cool stuff on computers is usually around making things accessible. That's what gets people excited. It's being able to contact friends, being able to access a medium for a voice, being able to access and see data in a whole bunch of interesting ways etc. Not only is this stuff exciting, but it's also helpful. It's productive to society at large. It's a bunch of really interesting thinking skills.

From a science fanboy perspective this goes into that whole discussion area. What do the results mean? Say you've proved "something". What is that something? During the whole peer review piece of the puzzle there's the poking holes at the experiment and method and then a discussion on what those results actually mean. This is probably the hardest bit as if you've set up an experiment to test your hypothesis, then chances are you're quite invested in the experiment being relevant to your hypothesis. Blinkers alert... It's all about thinking...

It seems we're worried about whether people have MS Office skills. Do you know where the supporting evidence for the need for MS Office skills have come from? The employment market! Those people who judge skills and attributes so incredibly accurately as to never get it completely and utterly wrong... all of the time.

It kind of feels like we're pandering to a bunch of dinosaurs. We, an all new singing, dancing, contextual understanding, younger generation (I include myself in here despite being in my mid-30's. There's nothing quite like stupid job requirements like "must have MS Office skills" to make you feel young) can do things without having to explicitly learn THAT version of whatever.

See that flowchart? Just do that... Except with an office suite. I now certify you as being able to use a word processor!

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