I currently have a foot in two (related) fields that are experiencing a bit of hype right now: the Maker Movement and Coding/Computer Science. This is not my first experience being in the midst of a technology hype. Interestingly, what’s changed is that the previous hypes were really fear mongering. The Internet is destroying us! And it’s eating our children! Both of these fields are mostly experiencing a positive hype cycle.
I feel sort of good about my job security as long as there’s substance under the hype–and there is–but it’s hard to tell by looking sometimes. For both of these, the substance came first and both have been around for a very long time. All of us need to realize that whatever the hype, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. These things didn’t spring out of nothing. Some people worked hard to build these things, build ideas, philosophies, and curricula around these things. The fact that the New York Times is now talking about one or the other of them every other day doesn’t change the core.
But it does make it hard to be a practitioner at times, because first, you have to get past the hype. Here are some things the hype tells you:
1. Everyone should be required to take a CS/Maker course!
2. CS/Maker courses will *save* education because jobs!
3. CS/Maker courses will break down disciplinary barriers!
4. CS is a foreign language. It is the language of our time!
5. Makered is shop class plus technology!
6. CS/Makered is about problem solving! And critical thinking! It’s great!
Some of these things may be true. Some may have a kernel of truth in them, but when you’re dealing with hyperbole, it’s hard to deal with reality. Let me use a simple example. I’ve heard the argument about CS counting as a foreign language many times. It’s in the news, even. And there are bills about it. I get that people want to get CS in and this seems like a good way to do it within existing structures. But let’s play this out. What students do you think are going to sign up for CS as a language? Girls? Minorities? Other underrepresented groups? I’m thinking they’ll stick with Spanish or French. But let’s be generous and say that you do get a wide variety of kids who sign up for CS as a language and think it’s going to be like Spanish I. What happens when they find out there’s some math involved? Or that it gets pretty hard? That you can’t just memorize stuff? That’s no good.
Right now, I believe we are in the Inflated Expectations peak of the Hype Cycle. Everyone’s going to throw spaghetti at the refrigerator and see what happens. The experiments that are well thought out, that are created to be sustainable, those will last through the trough of disillusionment. But some people will throw up a makerspace, won’t staff it with someone who knows what they’re doing, who understands making, and when the money and enthusiasm run out, they’ll have a 3D printer that will gather dust.
Doing these things well takes time, takes iteration, takes failing and learning from that failure. I’ve been working on stuff for four years at my school. I figure I have four more years before I feel like things are starting to fall into place, just in time for some new iteration.
I have more to say, but we’ll take it up in #makered on Tuesday.