You May Be Illiterate If You Can't Program

There was a time in our past when reading and writing were a luxury reserved only for the rich and the well-educated. Now, it is freely accepted that the ability to read and write is the rule, rather than the exception. Or at least it should be.


But there is a new movement afoot that is pushing the idea that literacy should also include the ability to program. ReadWriteWeb describes this concept in a great blog post. Proponents of programming as a measure of literacy explain that we are rapidly moving to a standard of interaction that rates the communications between man and machine and machine and machine at equal importance as communications between man and man. He or she who can master machine language will control two-thirds (or thereabouts) of the flow of information.


Others argue that it is more important to master fundamental communication before worrying about coding and mastering the ability to speak machine. In other words, learn to read, write, perform math, and hold a conversation, as the article quotes creator Jeff Atwood.


I think there are good reasons for embracing all forms of communication. Whether we measure a person’s literacy by their ability to code or whether we relegate coding to vocational status is largely irrelevant. If you want to maintain a degree of control over the new communication landscape that includes conversations with and between machines, then there is plenty of reason to learn to code. At the very least, perhaps we should view coding as another “foreign” language to be offered to young children in school, along with French, German, Spanish, Latin and English. At the very least, children should be given the opportunity and be encouraged to learn so that they can more readily engage in these machine-based conversations in meaningful, active ways rather than passively watch the end result flow by on their computer and smartphone screens. If the means and methods of communication are controlled by a small group of interpreters, then much of the conversation may be lost.


I started my love affair with computers learning how to code in Basic language. When I wanted to make changes to my web pages and blog, I taught myself enough HTML and CSS to get the job done. Why not? If you are interested in learning to code yourself, check out Codeacademy, a great project by a couple of guys who tired of the difficult process of learning to code. The site simplifies learning and makes coding fun.


Your Stimulus Dollars at Work: Tightening Up Search

Imagine a search engine that employs experiments to learn from you? The computer scientists at Cornell University have and they are using stimulus money (a four-year, $1 million grant) to improve search based on such experiments. The scientists are looking to develop search engine software that can read your queries and clicks, as well as subsequent query reformulations, in order to understand search methodology and what does and doesn’t work. The software developed from these efforts will be best used in specialized collections – the examples from the press release include scientific and legal collections and corporate intranets.

The search engine software will learn what works best by analyzing user data, almost as if by osmosis. The researchers already have developed the aptly-named Osmot and are looking to improve the process by tightening the experimental controls. More on Osmot at this link.

What does it all mean for you? Smarter search engines might yield faster and better results, but I still hesitate slightly at the thought of a machine’s judgment regarding what is and is not relevant substituting for my own. In any event, it will be interesting to see where this inqury leads and the ramifications for search.

It Really is Just a Matter of Perspective

While stumbling around on the internet looking for interesting articles to read, I happened upon these two slides in an article written by Derek Morrison called Technology Impeded Learning at Auricle – Learning Technologies In Higher Education. The slides are attributed to Martin Bean, from a recent slide show. I found them right on “point.”

Martin Bean 2009

Martin Bean 2009

Martin Bean 2009

Martin Bean 2009