In today’s world, STEM skills are in higher demand than ever before. We look to educators to train and prepare the next generation of engineers, inventors, and makers–often introducing students to these concepts at a very young age. This is especially the case when it comes to computer science. From Hour of Code to after-school or weekend coding camps, there are countless opportunities for students to get involved in coding and build a foundation for success in any 21st-century career path.
We largely think of coding and computer science as a standalone industry today. There’s a general belief that teaching students to code will set them on a journey towards a prestigious career at a big tech company, or maybe even as founders of the next Google or Facebook. But aside from a small handful of outliers, a majority of students will not find themselves on this path. Why? Because they’re simply not interested in pursuing these types of careers, and trying to convince them that they should be is a challenge in itself.
To combat this mentality, we need to rethink the way we understand and approach computer science education. The value of teaching computer science for students early on is not to inspire them to get a degree in the field or work at Google (though that’s certainly not a bad outcome). Instead, it’s about teaching students that almost every career of tomorrow’s world will involve encountering or manipulating code in some way. Whether they grow up to be a lawyer, teacher, artist or marketing executive, knowing how to create and work with code will be as indispensable as being able to create a PowerPoint presentation or even write an email.
There are two trends that will help shape this future:
1. Creating software will get easier. Coding has been a complex and highly-technical process, and hasn’t changed much since the Internet was first invented 50 years ago. Very few people–even those who work as developers, are able to build an entire app or game from scratch. However, we’re now on the cusp of a revolution in the way that code is written. As tech advances in this area, it will allow more and more people to create with code, shaping an entirely new generation of creators.
2. New generations will be inspired to build the types of content that were second-nature to them growing up. We see this today with the current generation of students who grew up with online video, where their number one career aspiration is becoming a “YouTuber.” The next generation of students is growing up with games and interactive content, and will naturally be inspired to participate in creating this type of content down the line.
With this in mind, there are a few ways educators can bring technology to the classroom today in ways that will position students for success in years to come.
As a starting point, educators should consider applying code to other subjects and leveraging the power of creating interactive content, such as games and apps, to demonstrate knowledge and use within project-based learning assignments.
Code does not need to be structured in one-off sessions or special assignments. A classic example of this is book reports. What was once limited to a written summary or a scrappy art poster was soon brought into the digital era with tools like PowerPoint and Prezi. Applying this to current times, it’s not uncommon for students to record YouTube-style videos to communicate their knowledge. Looking to the next generation of students, they’ll use tools like Koji to make games that retell stories in new ways and give them the opportunity to use a new medium to express their learning.
Educators can also use technology to encourage students to become active creators of content, instead of passive consumers. Technology, games, and interactive entertainment are the future, and it’s obvious that students today can’t get enough. This leads to interesting and wary conversations about screen time, child-appropriate content, and the role games/entertainment play in the classroom. One of the reasons we’re so cautious of the content students consume is rooted in the idea that they are passively consuming it without actually understanding what they’re watching.
With new platforms and easy-to-use tools available, we have the opportunity to invert this scenario and give students the ability to participate by creating content themselves. This new type of literacy gives students invaluable insights into the world behind the screen, similar to the way that teaching students journalism fundamentals can help them spot misinformation online.
If we want students to be well-positioned to participate in the world of tomorrow, we need to help them understand code as a new creative medium. Code should not be siloed inside computer science classes–it should exist as a tool available for students in every subject and for all kinds of projects. To further support this, educators need to expand their definition of code beyond the textbook description. Code is not always in the form of lines of text on a screen or blocks snapping together. It now involves students’ leaning to the power of creation and using tools along the way to help express themselves by building games, apps, and software today.