FrOSCon - on teaching

2012-09-09 08:17
The last talk I went to during FrOSCon was Selena's keynote on "Mistakes were made". She started by explaining how she taught computer science (or even just computer-) concepts to teachers herself - emphasizing how exhausting teaching can be, how many even trivial concepts were unknown to her students. After that Selena briefly sketched how she herself came to IT - emphasizing how providing mostly the information she needed to accomplish the current task at hand and telling how to get more information helped her make her first steps a great deal.

The main point of her talk however was to highlight some of the underlying causes for the lack of talented cs students. Some background literature is online at her piratepad on the subject.

The discussion that followed the keynote (and included contributions from two very interested, refreshingly dedicated teachers) was quite lively: People generally agreed that computer science/ computing or even just logical and statistical thinking plays a sadly minor role in current education. Students are mainly forced to memorize large amounts of facts by heart but are not taught to question their environment, discover relations or rate sources of information. The obvious question that seemed to follows was that on what to remove from the curriculum when introducing computing as a subject. My personal take on that is that maybe there is no need for removing anything - instead changing the way concepts are taught might already go a long way: Put arts, maths, natural sciences and music into context, have kids evaluate statistics and rate them not only in maths but also in e.g. biology by letting them examine some common statistical fallacies in the subject area.

Another problem stated was the common lack of technical understanding, the common lack of time for preparation and the common lack of understanding for the concept of open source or creative commons content. Taken together this makes sharing teaching material and improving it together with others incredibly hard.

Selena's call to action was for geeks to get involved and educate the people near and dear to them instead of giving up. On thing to add to that: Most German universities have some sort of visitors' days to prospective students - some even have collaborations with schools to do projects together with younger ones - make sure to check out your own university - you might well find out that teaching is not only exhausting but also particularly rewarding especially when teaching students that really want to know and participate in your project just because they want to.

If you know any teachers who are open to the idea of having externals take over some their lessons or at least provide input get them connected with your peers that are interested in educating others. Also keep in mind that most open source projects, hacker spaces and related organisations in Germany are so-called "gemeinnütziger e.V." - a status that in many cases was achieved by declaring the advancement of education as at least one of their goals.