[Edu-sig] Re: Beyond CP4E

Kirby Urner urnerk at qwest.net
Wed Apr 20 18:46:08 CEST 2005

> I am convinced that more interesting and relevant discussions would take
> place if posters were to adhere more closely to the purpose of this SIG.
> I apologize for submitting a Python unrelated-post.
> Sincerely,
> André Roberge

I understand this concern, and as probably the highest volume poster to
edu-sig, feel I should say something germane.

Have you looked a John Miller's PhD dissertation, Promoting Computer
Literacy Through Programming Python (1.37 MB)?  Linked from edu-sig home

This 288 page work uses edu-sig posts as its raw material.  Perhaps it went
to our heads (such an honor for a list to be the focus of a PhD thesis!).  

Anyway, in my view it codifies the notion that our latitude was broad, and
would likely stay broad.  This broad focus is in keeping with Guido's
original CP4E grant proposal as well, which I assume you've read.

For example, per chapter 1, of interest is: what constitutes literacy in
this day and age?  The recent 'Beyond CP4E' thread might be construed as
thinking around this issue.  How do/will/should/could people in the
humanities use Python, and how might our preparatory curricula anticipate
their needs?

Quoting from John's thesis:

  Certainly, in a formal programming course one 
  wants students to learn programming by doing 
  programming, lots of programming; however, 
  eventually, learning to program may lead to 
  a state of expertise in a student where he 
  or she begins to use those programming skills 
  in support of learning that is outside the 
  context of the programming course. What the 
  nature of that learning actually is is somewhat 
  indistinct at the moment... 

  What we do have, though, are clues from present 
  occupational practices where professionals who 
  have no specific training in computer science 
  program their computers to accomplish tasks 
  germane to their everyday work activities. 
  (pg 42-43)

However, this discussion is difficult to explore without getting into how
computers and programming assist in these various fields *in general* i.e.
sometimes we're not so Python-specific in our remarks, because the point is
programming, more than Python.  So we talk about different philosophies,
general approaches, as embodied in Squeak (SmallTalk) for example, or
ToonTalk, or the Scheme approach.  

In your own post following this one, you discuss the history of using
"controlling a robot" as a central metaphor for programming (though you
don't mention LISPish Logo, which is how most students in the USA were
exposed to those concepts in the 1980s or so, with robot = turtle).  Now
there's a Python option in that tradition.  However, to give GvR context,
you found yourself telling a longer tale -- and that's as it should be (i.e.
the background you provided was indeed relevant).

Another case in point:  I've been talking up the huge difference Google
makes in research, in the humanities included.  I gave illustrative output,
the results of a short session, intersecting with our threads.  Now, anyone
who was at Pycon knows that Python is one of the 3 most important languages
@ Google, and that SWIG is used to make a lot of the in-house C++ code
accessible to Python, so I was ipso facto leveraging Python's power in doing
these Google searches.  But that was hardly the central thrust of that post.

A logical segue (what I'd like to take up soon), is using the web services
Google provides to Python clients, e.g. what might we do to hack google in a
curriculum context?

Another example of Python in the humanities:  I've been serving as a mentor
for Tim, an 8th grader who took on, as an independent learning project (ILP
-- codified in the curriculum), creating a blog for Fr Bob.  To this end, he
downloaded and customized Pybloxsom, a Python blog.  He themed the pages
according to which holiday season we're in (Catholic calendar), plus did the
work to put Pybloxsom on top of mod_python in Apache (a significant
achievement!).  The result is here: http://www.frbob.org/

(he also learned a great deal about DNS servers, in getting a registered
domain to point to a dynamic IP number owned by Comcast).

This was not for a computer science course.  It was an ILP.  One could argue
this is Python at work in the humanities.  Tim is pioneering in this and
other directions.

Anyway, what I *don't* want to see is this list confining itself to issues
of how Python is/should/could be used or not used within CS curricula.
That's a very valid set of threads which should be included, but they’re not
what circumscribing outer limit of relevance IMO.  I don't think the
descriptions on the edu-sig page (which I wrote and maintain) may be
construed to narrow us that much.

Several of us also have web sites where we share materials that would take
up much more bandwidth on edu-sig, i.e. it could be worse :-D.

I want to personally thank you for your contributions to date, which have
been pithy and on target.


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