Hacking My Education
If there were one lesson I would wish that we instilled in all students, it wouldn't be an understanding of a particular piece of intellectual content that every student should know. Rather, that lesson would be to always embrace intellectual curiosity. We need to support lifelong learning -- learning outside the school day, the school year, outside the school -- and encourage students to love to learn.
I'm pretty excited to tackle these subjects, but they're more than a little bit daunting. It's been years since I've taken any math or science classes, and I have no formal programming education. What I do know about the latter is almost entirely self-taught, with some helpful guidance from friends and loved ones. Like a lot of folks my age, my first programming experience was with BASIC, and I really know little else -- other than enough HTML and CSS and PHP to wrangle my personal websites.
I don't think it's a requirement that technology journalists know how to code, don't get me wrong. But I do think it's important that we have a good understanding of how technology architecture works. We should be able to identify languages, understand their use-cases. If we don't, we aren't able to ask smart questions (something that I find particularly challenging when I'm conducting interviews on big data for O'Reilly Radar).
And I'm just genuinely interested in learning.
I'm also interested in these learning opportunities, not just because of the content but because of their form.
The two Stanford classes, although they're online and free to the public, are still fairly "formal" in terms of the structure of the classes. There are lectures, assigned readings and quizzes, for example.
Codecademy, for those unfamiliar with the site, is a new startup that describes itself as "the easiest way to learn how to code." The site has received quite a bit of positive media coverage. Techcrunch called it a "slick, fun way to teach yourself how to program." VentureBeat describes it as "Web development for the rest of us."
I too was pretty impressed with my first look at Codecademy (I included it in last month's New Educational Apps post on MindShift). I particularly like the browser-based interactivity and thought the way the first lesson actually walks you through the registration process was damn clever. It was an engaging entry point, and I found the first few lessons helpful and easy-to-follow.
But as I moved on, I found I had a lot of questions. Even when the lessons offered "hints," it wasn't always apparent to me what I needed to do (other than offer feedback to the app developers, of course). If I got stuck, there wasn't any help. Such is the nature of these sorts of self-paced, self-guided, informal online learning experiences, of course.