[plt-scheme] Re: [plt-edu] Leads on Liberal Arts Education and Programming

From: Marco Morazan (morazanm at gmail.com)
Date: Tue Apr 15 11:20:02 EDT 2008

> The article uses strong language in favor of "programming as the new
> literacy".  The problem is that Marc Prensky thinks that doing a web search
> is programming.  After hearing him speak at a conference last summer, I
> posed the question "what is programming" to this list-serv, along with a few
> others, and very few CS folks agreed that doing a web search is
> "programming".

Why exactly is doing a web search not programming? It is not general
purpose programming -- the type we associate with programming using,
for example, Scheme --, but is doing a web search in, say, Google, not
similar to typing a program into DrScheme? We enter a string --
correctly formatted for a given syntax for it to work right -- and an
interpreter takes actions to do what we want (i.e. it is executed).
Web search engines have ways of refining (i.e. syntax) the search to
exclude terms, to match strings exactly or partially, to curtail the
number of results, etc. In essence, we can program the search engine
in quite sophisticated ways to get the results we want much like we
program in DrScheme.

I would not call what, I suspect, most people do today with search
engines sophisticated programming. That is, most people simply type in
a string of words in a natural language to get results. Most of the
time, it would seem, this works well enough even when tons of
irrelevant results are produced. This, to me, is like typing integers
and returns at the DrScheme prompt. In both cases these users are
barely, if even that, tapping into the potential of the (virtual)
machine they are using.

> What Prensky is describing is technology literacy, or even
> what the CSTA might call "fluency" -- it's not programming.

I agree that Prensky has failed to capture or grasp the full argument
that needs to be made. Programming is a skill that goes beyond video
recorders, cells phones, and computers. Is it too far fetched to state
that a painter engages in programming when creating a painting? She
provides input to our eyes to create a reaction or communicate an
idea. The painting is a program that generates a desired reaction in
the viewer.......may I dare say that we have uploaded the program
created by the painter and executed it?

It seems to me that we tend to associate programming only with
computer programming which does not seem quite right. Generals program
their armies to achieve a military goals, companies program their
workers to achieve financial goals, the Argentine soccer team is
programmed to win world cups, etc. Are living organisms not
programmed? How do cells know what to do? I certainly do not tell my
cells what to do to keep me alive. In fact, I do not know what they do
to achieve this (and the truth is that nobody really knows......we
only have a vague idea of how cells work). Programming is really
fundamental just like reading, writing, and mathematics (beyond
arithmetic from my perspective). It is part of our daily lives and
needs to be studied by all. Perhaps, it is more fundamental than
reading, writing, and mathematics.......as a species we needed to
program a hunt before we invented reading, writing, and mathematics.

Respectfully submitted for your consideration,


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