[Edu-sig] Do we "teach computers" when we write code?

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Tue Apr 7 00:05:36 CEST 2009

I'm wondering what others on this list think of this non-standard use
of "teaching" when talking about programming a computer.

The authors say we're "teaching" the computer....

Every teacher knows that one of the best ways to
understand something is to teach it to someone else. But
teaching a computer is not exactly the same as teaching
other people. People have a way of interpreting what is
being said to them. They read the gestures and the facial
expressions of their teachers as well as the words that
are spoken. The intonation of the voice is important and
matters judged to be obvious are not always articulated.
All this may generally assist the learning process but
what matters here is that computers are essentially stupid
so they cannot interpret any of the commands they are
given and the teacher has to articulate everything that
is to be learned. A computer has no knowledge of what
its programmer is attempting to do. It only knows what
it has been told and so the children who are teaching it
are compelled to use precise, unambiguous and formal
language. The children respect this requirement because
they understand that it is not an arbitrary imposition (as
many of those made by teachers often are). In todayÕs
world we cannot yet address machines informally by
the spoken word and, mathematically at least, there
may be fewer benefits when we can.

There are other characteristics of computers that make
them valuable objects to teach. One of these is their
interactivity. Without any computers we might use
paper and pencil which are useful devices for recording
results but less valuable for experimental purposes
because they do not encourage an exploratory approach
or suggest activity. The computer, in contrast, begs to
be used. It always feels quite appropriate to key in ideas
and try them out. In fact children are usually so willing
to explore different possibilities that teachers are more
likely to have the reverse problem of having to persuade
them to stand back and reflect occasionally.

Teaching the computer
>From Micromath 18/1 2002 by Ronnie Goldstein

I'd think this might backfire, as students begin thinking they're
being treated much as the computers are being treated, as dull and
stupid, such that teachers have to speak very... slowly... and

I'm poking around this site thanks to Ian at the scene, who sees ATM
dooming itself in some bid to join with a dying NAMA (he was at the
NAMA conference right before Pycon).  http://www.nama.org.uk/

Not saying I follow entirely as I'm not in the UK (Steve Holden was
supposed to translate for me), but I surmise ATM and NCTM are somewhat
parallel organizations.

ATM was actually founded by Caleb Gattengno, so it's ironic, what Ian is saying.


The article above is obviously dated (2002), plus in mine has a lot of
incorrect characters, thanks to PDF encoding problems.

I think computers are running our scripts more like player pianos.  We
don't teach our pianos, we tune them (guitars:  we play them).

We *play* our computers (like guitars) more than we "teach" them, no?


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