Riding the Hype Wave

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.

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5 Replies to “Riding the Hype Wave”

  1. The CS as a foreign language is actually kind of funny. That is how i got out of taking foreign language in college. A semester of FORTRAN and a semester of Java took care of that. I wish I had taken French or Russian so I would have something a bit more useful. I cannot talk to anybody in FORTRAN or Java. Russian would have gotten me a lot more job offers than FORTRAN. In the Army I worked with Russian speaking translators to work with Kyrgyzstani troops. Those translators were scarce and expensive.
    I see the maker thing as a motivational toy at the moment. Sometimes they die a slow death, sometimes (like robotics) they go big time. I think it is a wait and see situation. I would love to have a maker to play with, but that is all it would be, something to play with.

  2. Garth, a “maker” is a person, so asking for a “maker to play with” sounds rather bizarre. Perhaps you mean a 3D printer? or perhaps a “makerspace to play in”?

    I agree that programming is not a substitute for foreign language instruction—they are almost completely unrelated skills. Foreign language requires a lot of memorization, while programming relies much more on problem-decomposition and debugging skills, with very little memory work.

  3. A maker to me is a 3D printer. I got off focus. So many people are excited about getting their school a 3D printer and a parent asked me when we are getting one i have 3D printers on the mind. Cool gadgets are just that, gadgets. Now that we have that little confusion cleared up, what is the person Maker referring to? This is a new term to me. I was a little confused about the “CS/Maker” references above.

  4. Sorry for the insider baseball terminology there. Because I’m embedded in both these hype waves, I forget that the hype hasn’t reached everyone. Make/making/maker/makered are all things affiliated with the maker movement, a movement spawned primarily out of Make magazine that is a kind of DIY movement. In schools, it’s been used to combine disciplines such as computing, engineering, art, math, and science. Schools are creating makerspaces that are like wood shops on steroids. They’re filled with soldering irons, 3D printers, robotics parts, arduinos, laser cutters, etc. For me, it’s really a philosophy whereby one teaches kids how to think, design, and learn from failure. Programming is, of course, one way to do that, but another is through the kinds of hands-on projects that might involve no computing/programming at all. There’s more info at makered.org and k12makers.org.

    Some of the hype is warranted. Some of the things coming out of this movement are really, really cool.

  5. Ah ha! Let there be light! The program does look interesting but it also looks very expensive and very asset consuming. The concept seems similar to Project Lead The Way. I will have to dig into this a bit. It is not suitable to my school but there is knowledge to be gained here.

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