For anyone who is unfamiliar with the tech industry, the terms coding, computing, and programming seem interchangeable and an ongoing debate on the subject would be moot. However, every industry has its own set of vocabulary or specific words with a different meaning and context. This is especially true when discussing technology as it continues to evolve and adapt. For instance, “spam” isn’t edible, “bugs” are not insects and an “Easter Egg” is not just used at Easter.
With coding or programming, the definitions in use to explain these two terms vary depending on who you’re talking to and which industry you’re in – which invariably can lead to a state of confusion.
As the Hour of Code week approaches, we asked Mark Barnett, our VP of Education, and Nickey Khemchandani, our CTO to reflect on the importance of coding, what really matters in coding education, and to share their ideas on how educators and technologists can benefit from collaborating.
What’s the difference between coding and programming?
NIckey Khem: Coding is the translation of Code from one language to another. In coding, we don’t deal with complex problems. In contrast, programming is the process of creating code by performing deep analysis and many optimization methods with the help of different algorithms.
Mark Barnett: The issue when people use these terms interchangeably is that people generalize the two when they are entirely different roles and require different skill sets.
Does the misuse of terminology create a problem?
NK: Absolutely! Misusing terminology can start a serious communication breakdown further down the line. I have had situations where two parties were using terms wrongly, leading to confusion in requests.
The biggest issues arise when people are getting an understanding of how much something would cost, and mentioning buzzwords like Big Data and Real-Time Analytics, which while popular can be highly expensive.
Which terms have had the most impact in the education technology industry?
MB: To me, “computational thinking” seems to have had the greatest impact on students because these skills can be applied to solving non-tech related problems as well, providing students with new skills and abilities in critical thinking.
At BSD Education, we commonly use a computational thinking cornerstone called “abstraction” where you focus only on the important details while ignoring irrelevant information.
For example, in our Hour of Code project “The People Who Inspire Me” we lead students through developing a single webpage showcasing 3 people who might inspire them, but break down each step of the process into objectives and provide guidance for the HTML and CSS syntax. By abstracting the process into steps, the students can focus on each section until the project is complete.
What needs to change in the educational system today?
NK: One key area the educational system needs to change is the relevance of the curriculum used. Students are living in a very different environment when compared to the 80s and 90s. There is more opportunity now more than ever to include practical, real-world examples into the curriculum. For example, when looking at communication, the usage of social media must be included, what is happening sadly in some educational systems is the focus on understanding historical methods only.
MB: Like Nickey mentioned, the relevance of curriculum is a crucial aspect of change that needs to be addressed. In regard to the nature of coding and programming education, I think it makes the most sense to teach children through projects that allow them to participate in making something useful or something that will actually work instead of learning to program by reading a textbook or following along with a tutorial. At BSD, all of our curricula is centered around the development of a project, whether it is your first webpage or a virtual reality world with complex systems.
Should coding be for everyone?
MB: One great thing that Hour of Code has done, is to vastly increase the exposure of programming to children all over the world, even if it is just for that one hour. Coding, just like reading or writing, is a skill that provides you with new avenues to share your knowledge, opinions, and your voice with the world.
NK: Coding can be a form of creative expression, but it can also lead towards understanding new ways to break down problems into smaller steps and solve unique challenges. While we certainly don’t expect every child to become professional technologists, we want children to have some conceptual understanding of how the technologies that they use every day, work.
What can educators and technologists learn from each other by collaborating?
MB: As an educator, I see that my role is to support technology with the pedagogy that allows the comprehension of the technology to transcend in digestible chunks that can easily be used by teachers and students. In order to do this properly, I myself must understand the technology to a degree to which I can foresee problems that might arise while designing the curriculum. A great way to gain better insight into learning technology is by consulting the experts. At BSD, I often consult Nickey, our CTO to gain a better understanding of how technical concepts are used at a professional level. We discuss big ideas, technical details, and share an enthusiasm for passing on knowledge.
NK: My role is often to bring the latest and complex technology into the hands of individuals and in BSD’s case, teachers and students. This is, however, easier said than done as a lot of technology requires complex predefined understanding, which is not accessible to someone that well versed in technology to start with.
This is where I really think the value of having educators on the team, such as our VP of Education, Mark helps.
Our collaboration commonly begins as a sharing session where we understand what is happening in the world of Technology and Education alike, which allows us to bring the latest educational pedagogies mixed with cutting edge technology into our curriculum and platform.
Educators have an incredible capability to turn complex ideas and concepts into accessible material for students, this is where I, as a technologist have really benefited, gaining the ability to better explain technology allows us to have our products reach more customers.
On the flip side, technologists live and breathe on the edge of innovation and constantly are on the pulse of the latest happenings in several industries. Educators benefit from the shared research and development that is produced, from evolving curriculum with real-world technologies and applications to technology tools that allow accessibility and improved engagement from students.