Categorized | Features, General

De Ole Dawg – Part 4 2016: Building Digital Productivity for Development

What about building digital productivity for development?

Fire DragonBRADES, Montserrat, Jan 5, 2016 – Today, Apple Corporation stands at US$ 588.2 billion; down for the moment from its peak in February last year, US$ 765 billion – but still fully capable of becoming a trillion dollar corporation. Apple and other digital technology companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon have long since taken their place with energy and financial/banking houses, as the top tier of the corporate world.  And, digital technology is everywhere now; even cars are now full of embedded computer systems.

Coming back home, it is obvious that we are in a digital age, with smart phones, laptops, and other digital instruments all around. The typewriter is dead, and it is getting a bit hard to find a fax machine.

So, if we are to tickle the dragon’s tail to help spark development we must take digital technology seriously. Yes, tourism is very important, but we must not put all of our development eggs in any one basket.

So also, we must focus on natural resource no. 1: brain power.

However,  we are mostly digital consumers rather than producers. And, such is troubling when we recall from the Hayek investment triangle that human resource development today may well already be shaping and constraining what is possible in our region’s economies twenty to thirty years down the line.

No wonder, then, that in February 2012, the UK Royal Society issued the Furber Report on Computing in Schools,[1] which (concerned to secure Britain’s competitiveness over the first half of the 21st century) advised:

We aspire to an outcome where every primary school pupil has the opportunity to explore the creative side of Computing through activities such as writing computer programs (using a pupil-friendly programming environment such as Scratch[2]). At secondary school every pupil should have the opportunity to work with microcontrollers and simple robotics, build web-based systems, and similar activities.

This is what Scratch looks like – with a nod to Lego bricks and structured programming charts:

Lego bricks

I suggest we should look at exposing primary age pupils to computing using child-oriented languages such as Scratch or Alice, then going on – perhaps, through Greenfoot –  to Java based and web/multimedia programming and to introductory computer science in secondary school. Beyond, we should take advantage of the mathematical, graphical, statistical, modelling/ simulation and scientific libraries that allow Java to be used for many advanced investigations, and also of its capacity to host and “wrap” code modules written in other more specialised computer languages.

(Java[3] is arguably one of the most successful computer languages in history and opens the gateway to modern, object oriented programming. As just one example, Java is used on the NASA Mars Rovers, and there is a “real time” version of the language designed for control type applications. It is also one of the top two or three languages for introductory programming courses.)

Small, low cost exploratory computer systems such as the Raspberry Pi [US$ 30 – 40] and the Arduino [board, US$ 30, kits, US$  60 – 80+] should also be introduced. Here is an Arduino board, with the Silicon chip shown also:

digital productivity

I believe exposure to digital productivity will open up a world of thought, skills and possibilities, as well as helping our children to develop logical, process thinking and systems skills for an information age. I also think we need a good web-based Java based first programming course for adults as a part of continuing education and/or professional development, for much the same reasons.

Hardly less important is the potential impact of interactive digital technologies on education in general. For instance, it is now common for book lists to have half a dozen or more major subject textbooks that are almost the size and weight of an encyclopaedia volume, and will often cost EC$ 80 – 200+. If instead students use large screen tablet PCs and electronic course readers and workbooks, that would make a big difference to weight, ease of access and cost. For instance, here is the Microsoft Surface – and, yes, it’s a tablet that uses Windows, with a detachable keyboard:

Microsoft Surface

(Such tablets can also interface with experiments, and can host free or low cost apps that implement powerful lab instruments. Also, very powerful electronic calculators.)

There are also many open source, high quality free reference textbooks that can be downloaded, e.g. http://www.siyavula.com/ and https://openstaxcollege.org/ . And, with a digital online library, reference material would be a click away.

At the next level, we need to take notice of a key observation made by well known education researcher, Benjamin Bloom and others: the two-sigma challenge. Tutorial, highly interactive and individualised instruction is readily capable of converting a C into an A, and of getting almost all children to “pass.” However, the cost to try to teach every pupil in that way is prohibitive.

Until now. For, multimedia digital technology – the same technology that creates the entertainment and games that so engross our children – allows us to create a much richer, far more interactive and motivating education experience; one that could transform the quality of education our children receive.  Once, we invest in creating the learning resources and learning environment.

And, Montserrat is ideally sized to serve as a pilot project. So, let us ask: if not now, then when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then who?

ENDS –

[1]           https://royalsociety.org/~/media/Royal_Society_Content/education/policy/computing-in-schools/2012-01-12-Computing-in-Schools.pdf

[2]           https://scratch.mit.edu/

[3]           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Java_%28programming_language%29

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What about building digital productivity for development?

Fire DragonBRADES, Montserrat, Jan 5, 2016 – Today, Apple Corporation stands at US$ 588.2 billion; down for the moment from its peak in February last year, US$ 765 billion – but still fully capable of becoming a trillion dollar corporation. Apple and other digital technology companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon have long since taken their place with energy and financial/banking houses, as the top tier of the corporate world.  And, digital technology is everywhere now; even cars are now full of embedded computer systems.

Coming back home, it is obvious that we are in a digital age, with smart phones, laptops, and other digital instruments all around. The typewriter is dead, and it is getting a bit hard to find a fax machine.

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So, if we are to tickle the dragon’s tail to help spark development we must take digital technology seriously. Yes, tourism is very important, but we must not put all of our development eggs in any one basket.

So also, we must focus on natural resource no. 1: brain power.

However,  we are mostly digital consumers rather than producers. And, such is troubling when we recall from the Hayek investment triangle that human resource development today may well already be shaping and constraining what is possible in our region’s economies twenty to thirty years down the line.

No wonder, then, that in February 2012, the UK Royal Society issued the Furber Report on Computing in Schools,[1] which (concerned to secure Britain’s competitiveness over the first half of the 21st century) advised:

We aspire to an outcome where every primary school pupil has the opportunity to explore the creative side of Computing through activities such as writing computer programs (using a pupil-friendly programming environment such as Scratch[2]). At secondary school every pupil should have the opportunity to work with microcontrollers and simple robotics, build web-based systems, and similar activities.

This is what Scratch looks like – with a nod to Lego bricks and structured programming charts:

Lego bricks

I suggest we should look at exposing primary age pupils to computing using child-oriented languages such as Scratch or Alice, then going on – perhaps, through Greenfoot –  to Java based and web/multimedia programming and to introductory computer science in secondary school. Beyond, we should take advantage of the mathematical, graphical, statistical, modelling/ simulation and scientific libraries that allow Java to be used for many advanced investigations, and also of its capacity to host and “wrap” code modules written in other more specialised computer languages.

(Java[3] is arguably one of the most successful computer languages in history and opens the gateway to modern, object oriented programming. As just one example, Java is used on the NASA Mars Rovers, and there is a “real time” version of the language designed for control type applications. It is also one of the top two or three languages for introductory programming courses.)

Small, low cost exploratory computer systems such as the Raspberry Pi [US$ 30 – 40] and the Arduino [board, US$ 30, kits, US$  60 – 80+] should also be introduced. Here is an Arduino board, with the Silicon chip shown also:

digital productivity

I believe exposure to digital productivity will open up a world of thought, skills and possibilities, as well as helping our children to develop logical, process thinking and systems skills for an information age. I also think we need a good web-based Java based first programming course for adults as a part of continuing education and/or professional development, for much the same reasons.

Hardly less important is the potential impact of interactive digital technologies on education in general. For instance, it is now common for book lists to have half a dozen or more major subject textbooks that are almost the size and weight of an encyclopaedia volume, and will often cost EC$ 80 – 200+. If instead students use large screen tablet PCs and electronic course readers and workbooks, that would make a big difference to weight, ease of access and cost. For instance, here is the Microsoft Surface – and, yes, it’s a tablet that uses Windows, with a detachable keyboard:

Microsoft Surface

(Such tablets can also interface with experiments, and can host free or low cost apps that implement powerful lab instruments. Also, very powerful electronic calculators.)

There are also many open source, high quality free reference textbooks that can be downloaded, e.g. http://www.siyavula.com/ and https://openstaxcollege.org/ . And, with a digital online library, reference material would be a click away.

At the next level, we need to take notice of a key observation made by well known education researcher, Benjamin Bloom and others: the two-sigma challenge. Tutorial, highly interactive and individualised instruction is readily capable of converting a C into an A, and of getting almost all children to “pass.” However, the cost to try to teach every pupil in that way is prohibitive.

Until now. For, multimedia digital technology – the same technology that creates the entertainment and games that so engross our children – allows us to create a much richer, far more interactive and motivating education experience; one that could transform the quality of education our children receive.  Once, we invest in creating the learning resources and learning environment.

And, Montserrat is ideally sized to serve as a pilot project. So, let us ask: if not now, then when? If not here, then, where? If not us, then who?

ENDS –

[1]           https://royalsociety.org/~/media/Royal_Society_Content/education/policy/computing-in-schools/2012-01-12-Computing-in-Schools.pdf

[2]           https://scratch.mit.edu/

[3]           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Java_%28programming_language%29