I got a bit of a chuckle today. Mark Guzdial sent me a copy of an on-line book he is writing for a teacher education program. The interactive book uses Python as the language. This is going to be an incredibly useful tool and I am really looking forward to when I can pass the word that it is available for prime time. I suggested he include an appendix for teachers on how to install Python and a text editor in case the teacher wants to play with Python outside the interactive book. His reply was “Can you say something about why it’s important to you to install Python from scratch? At least around here, our teachers are not *allowed* to install things themselves on the computers. It’s all locked down by tech support.” Ah yes, the world of schools with responsive tech support. I think most of us live in the world of non-responsive or very short handed or non-existent tech support. I am the tech support for my two schools, PK – 12. About 500 kids, about 500 computers plus the BYOD issues. And I teach three upper level classes. From my experience this is the norm; part time techs. I make all the teachers administrators on their own computers so they can install the software they want to look at.
Montana is made up of little schools. Most of these little schools have either no on-site tech support or have a teacher that does what they can when they can. A programming teacher is on their own in more ways than one. Choosing a language, learning the language, finding a curriculum, finding resources, finding computers for a programming lab, deciding to go BYOD with all the attached hassle of 5 different PC brands and Mac in a pear tree, and, perhaps worst of all, finding the time to do all this stuff.
Mark’s interactive book is going to be a winner with these small schools that want to offer a programming course and have a willing but un-trained teacher. A new teacher can work through the book and get a pretty good grasp on what programming is all about and probably offer a decent first time programming course with the knowledge learned. But if the book is going to make it in these standalone environments there has to be a little bit on how to get things running. Installing Python is not rocket science. Finding an editor and installing it is not rocket science. But being rocket science or not does not mean it is obvious to a first time teacher or, even if the school does have tech support, that tech support knows what to install. They are going to need a little help.