A Web Ed Discussion

When I was younger, I used to be enamored with Neopets. I hate to say it, but looking back, I was more than obsessed with the idea of owning a strange virtual pet. But besides a freaky looking rabbit and some worthless neopoints, I got something else out of Neopets: my curiosity for tech.

Back when websites were simpler, it was a little easier to manipulate code. In fact, Neopets let users input their own code into a text area so they could customize the backgrounds of their shops and galleries or add music or whatever silly gifs they wanted to show off to their Neopet friends.

I loved the idea of customization, so I visited various websites that had pre-made codes for music, backgrounds and gifs, and ctrl + c’ed and ctrl + v’ed everything into the text area to my heart’s content.

At this point, I thought I was hot stuff. I decided to create a website on Freewebs.com (now known simply as Webs.com) called htmlHowto. It’s really quite hideous. I’m embarrassed that I was capable of producing something so terribly ugly. But my third grade ego got the best of me and I thought it was the best website ever. I also thought I knew everything about HTML and CSS. Truth is, at the time, I didn’t even know what HTML and CSS stood for.

Well, sometime during my prepubescence, I decided to give up Neopets along with my dolls and stuffed animals (was I a late bloomer or what?). But I also lost my interest in tech during that time. Instead, I took up tennis and singing and found myself drowning in AP coursework and tests.

So when did this tech blog come along? Well, as soon as I got to college, I realized I did not know what the heck I wanted to do with my life. I took a couple Journalism classes, a couple Humanities classes, a marketing course and my very first class about Information Technology.

I came into the IT class thinking I knew everything – my hexadecimal colors codes, my borders, my a hrefs and my img srcs – but I left the class knowing less than I ever knew in my whole life because I realized that there was SO much to learn. I was wanting, needing to learn more about the vast world of technology. I decided, after my first year, to pick up a minor in Web Development & Applications as well as read up on programming books.

Which brings me to what I would like to actually discuss: the mandated incorporation of web education and information technology in school curricula.

Technology has completely changed the modern world as we know it. Google’s “The Evolution of the Web” portrays the speed at which the Internet, its browsers and technologies have evolved. No other sector, no other field of study is growing at the rate that technology is. There are plenty of jobs out there for those who graduate with a degree in Computer Science.

But if this is the case, why aren’t we exposing everyone to programming and technology?

Sure, there are specialized high schools for technology and science and sure, regular high schools and even some middle schools offer courses in programming and such. But why are we not making it obligatory for all kids, starting from grade school, to take some sort of programming class?

Cathy Davidson and Mark Surman of Fast Company’s Co.Exist make a great point in their article, Why Web Literacy Should Be Part Of Every Education, in which “Like reading, writing, and arithmetic, web literacy is both content and activity. You don’t just learn ‘about’ reading: you learn to read. You don’t just learn ‘about’ arithmetic: you learn to count and calculate. You don’t just learn ‘about’ the web: you learn to make your own website.”

Essentially, science, a subject that is placed very high in the ranks of academic curricula, is the study of how all things in the physical and natural world operate. Technology and computer science, then, are the studies of how computers and technology operate. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge, the means by which we can solve problems and generate more questions and be able to apply what we have learned to real-life situations. School is where people go to learn skills and brush-up on important and relevant information. Therefore, it only makes sense to start teaching kids computer science and internet technologies, instead of depriving them of such powerful knowledge.

It’s true that kids are being exposed to technology, but it’s more lusting after cool tablets and shiny smartphones than really figuring out how these gadgets and gizmos work. If we can get kids exposed to technology sooner, there’s a good chance that they’ll take interest and, in the future, pursue some sort of technology or computer science-related degree.

But there are people like me who, perhaps, got interested (or rather re-interested) a little late in the game. Is all hope lost? Not at all. Though there’s a lot of ground to cover, there are many things you can do to learn a thing or two about programming without having to spend an extra few years in college:

1. Read, read and read. Most, if not all, big-time bookstores carry books on programming and web development. Melissa Wenger, winner of the 2012 Google Science Fair, for example, learned how to code just by reading books. Sprye Studios and Webitects both have great books lists for budding developers and programmers.

2. Watch video tutorials. Though you can type in what you want to learn into the search bar on YouTube, my personal favorite YouTube user to learn from is The New Boston, who assumes that everyone watching his videos have absolutely no prior programming experience, breaks down Python and C++, among other languages, in a way that’s entertaining, hilarious and very informative.

3. Take affordable, if not free, classes. Full Sail University offers comprehensive online classes that include Mobile Development and Web Design and Development. And as I mentioned in my last post, computer science-based Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs) including Udacity and EdX offer introductory CS 101 classes that won’t cost you a cent. Tech Crunch just published an article worth reading called “5 Ways To Learn Code From The Comfort Of Your Browser” which will also prove very helpful in learning some programming/code.

Even if you are not going to be a programmer or developer anytime soon, it’s still important to know and to be exposed to these matters. At one point in our lives, we were taught meiosis and mitosis, were told to read Pride and Prejudice and were expected to know the US presidents in chronological order. Even with this exposure, not all of us became doctors or historians, but for the ones who were bitten by the learning bug, for those who voraciously read and re-read their biology textbooks or searched the internet for information about the history of ancient Egypt, it’s worth it, and the same should go for technology and web literacy.

What do you think? Should web literacy be incorporated into the school curriculum as early as grade school? Is there such thing as too early when it comes to learning about programming and web development? Are there any programming books you would like to recommend? Let me know in the comments below!

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