Friday, March 1, 2013

Marketing the Importance of Programming Education

At the risk of sounding like Dr. McCoy complaining to Captain Kirk in the original Star-trek TV series, I'm a software engineer, not a marketeer. At my request, the local high school and local BOCES school have announced the availability of a mentored edition of's CS101 at the "Yes We Can" Community Center here in the New Cassel section of North Hempstead, NY. My plan is to have weekly meetings of the class at 7PM, Monday, starting March 4, for a Scrum-inspired stand-up meeting where each student will say what they did on the course in the past week, and what they will do this week, and what impediments they see in their way. Other school nights I'll be available 7-9PM to answer questions and the students can put in whatever hours they want to at the community center or if they have the Internet at home, they can work on the course at home. Udacity provides little in the way of a "dashboard" for tracking the progress of the students in a class, so I'm hoping the Scrum-style stand-up meeting will enable me to track progress and figure out who needs extra attention. And, I hope it serves to persuade student's to live up to their announced plans and keep on keeping on. I've prepared a small set of slides to use at the first night's meeting.

But, as of Tuesday this week, the community center tells me no students have enrolled so far. I've nudged my contacts at the high school and BOCES school to see if we can get some students motivated to come check it out. My plan is to show up on Monday evening and bring a book to keep me busy if it turns out I'm there by myself.

Meanwhile,, a non-profit has appeared on the Web to promote the proposition that Every student should have a chance to learn to code. To get people's attention, they've posted to YouTube an "all-star" video in 3 editions. 1 minute, 5 minutes and 10 minutes. What most school's don't teach.

If you've been following my blog here this month, you may have seen the video from Jörn Loviscach, "MOOC's and other faster horses" that I had linked to my recent post "Education and Technology". Loviscach is one of the professors. He reported some scary statistics about how the MOOC's typically start out with hundreds of thousands of students, but a huge fraction (90%) typically drop the course. The classroom at the community center only seats about 12 students and even if I had an overwhelming demand for CS101, I don't think we could accomodate more than a Monday team and a Tuesday team. I don't want to get into a situation where we've overcommited the center's PC's so students who show up to work on the course can't get a seat. Bottom line is that unless I can influence that retention rate as part of my local mentoring of the class, I may not live long enough to see anyone actually complete the course. Hence my concern about "retention".

I agree that every student should have a chance to learn to code. Now if I can only manage to recruit and retain some students. I'll blog about how things go. So stay tuned, please. To paraphrase Scotty from Star-Trek, I may think of myself as a software engineer, but I'm a marketeer now. And if you know anyone in North Hempstead, NY, please encourage them to visit the Yes We Can Community Center on Garden Street and sign up for CS101.