Wednesday, December 27, 2017

How much of “cyber” in “cyberlearning” and "cyberthinking"?


How much of “cyber” in “cyberlearning” and "cyberthinking"??

Part I: "Introduction" - why do we need to talk about cyber education (everyone who does not need to be convinced can just skip to part II)  
“Computer based technologies, including robotics and Artificial Intelligence, entering all aspects of society, including private and professional life of millions of people.
That is why our students need to learn how to write a code, how to program, they need to develop cyber thinking via various aspect of cyber learning.”
This statement in many different forms have been circulating for a while. The simple internet search leads to thousands of entries, which usually span between 2010 and current year, for example:

Every week or two some media outlet issues a new article of a video about learning how to code, computer literacy, the importance of the informatics.
For example, The Wall Street Journal has dozens of videos on the matter:
https://www.wsj.com/video/search/learn%20to%20code
General public is not aware, however, that slogans like “We need to teach students coding”, “Student have to learn informatics” and similar, have been around since the begging of mass production of personal computers, meaning, for about 30 years already.
And not only in America.
In Russia, for example, all university students had to learn how to code using MS Basic and FORTRAN since yearly 1980s (at least). Since late 1990s all high schools in Russia were teaching informatics. Maybe, that is one of the reasons that the match between the U.S. and Russian cyber forces looks like a draw (at least) despite the huge technical and financial advantage of the U.S. (“Why Did Russian Cyber Forces Beat Their U.S. Adversaries in 2016?”; https://teachologyforall.blogspot.com/2017/04/cyber.html).
BTW: If everything goes according to a plan, in the near future all Russian schools will also be teaching game of Chess (it looks like they really want to force everyone into thinking).
America has never suffered from having low numbers of American-born students selecting STEM related field, including computer study, because the world always could provide enough qualified foreigners wishing to work in the U.S. This situation, however, may be changing due to changing immigration policies (“What Would Businesses Do if No Foreign Students Could Come In the Country Anymore?”; https://teachologyforall.blogspot.com/2017/02/nostudents.html).
This is one of the reasons for reignited urgency for reviving 30-year old slogans. For example, on December 12, 2017, in his Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet, Vice President AI and IBM Q, Dr. Dario Gil said: “There are actions we must take now to ensure the workforce is prepared to embrace the era of AI … we must address the shortage of workers with the skills needed to make advances in AI … We need to match skills education and training with the actual skills that will be required in the emerging age of AI … We can use the example of the adoption of software programming as a critical skill that is taught in many high school and colleges. Some colleges require that all students learn how to code since they consider it a necessary skill for success. Students becoming proficient in programming have a wider range of job opportunities.” (https://www.commerce.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/492f7274-c35f-445e-85c5-de2ff9549f3c/A910A871CB1AEAD789BA779052DE21E2.gil-testimony.pdf).

Part II: Pedagogy of cyber education
However, the current pedagogical approach to advancing cyberlearning is based on insufficient methodology.
According to a common definition (http://www.programmingforbeginnersbook.com/blog/what_is_programming_coding/)


Coding is essentially matching something, which was classified or identified with a code.
“Classified” or “identified” usually means a set of actions which need to be performed in a specific order under specific conditions, and is usually called “an algorithm”.
“A code” represents a set of symbols, which represent specific operations over specific objects with specific properties.
The process of coding is essentially composed of two independent sub-processes: (1) development of the algorithm; and (2) assigning a symbolic code (a command) to each element of the algorithm.
General public usually makes an equivalence between “coding” and “assigning a symbolic code to each element of the algorithm”. As the result, “learning how to code” (and cyberlearning in general) is shrank to “learning a code”, i.e. memorizing symbolic representation of various commands.
In reality, memorizing coding commands without being able to produce a workable algorithm is like memorizing the meaning the individual words of a foreign language, but not knowing the grammar, hence not being able to produce a meaningful sentence.
An ability to develop a workable algorithm is the central and the most important ability of coding, programming, and computational thinking in general.
In order to be as efficient as possible, the process of cyberlearning should be based on already developed ability of developing workable algorithms.
That means, that the development of algorithmic thinking should precede the development of computational thinking.
Say a name of any device which comes to mind.
A phone.
A TV set.
A gas station pump.
Any device!
They ALL – all devices in the world – have been designed using algorithmic thinking.
Every single technological process – from the first assembly line to the Amazon warehouse and shipping facility – also has been designed using algorithmic thinking.
Designing the launch protocol for a shuttle or a rocket, or a recipe for a meal, or a plan for a wedding is impossible without using
algorithmic thinking.
And, of course, every single code written to operate any device or a process, from a TV remote control to the blockchain technology, has been written using algorithmic thinking.
In general, designing a device, or a protocol, or a process, or a program which includes a set of actions which are distributed in time is impossible without the use of algorithmic thinking.
Cyber thinking represents a small part the algorithmic thinking and just cannot be developed without having developed a sufficient level of the algorithmic thinking.
But the development and advancement of the algorithmic thinking does NOT require any reliance on computer programming, and computers in general. In fact, learning how to code, or write programs is NOT the best way to development of algorithmic thinking.
Algorithmic thinking can and needs to be advanced outside of the computer, or programming, or coding classes and within a variety of STEM subjects. Two subject fields, which are the most suited for advancing algorithmic thinking, are physics and mathematics.
However, in order for physics, mathematics, or any subject, to be an effective tool for the development and advancement of algorithmic thinking, those subjects must be taught in a specific way; i.e. the development of the algorithmic thinking should be one of the specific objectives of the teacher teaching those subjects (ideally, all teachers teaching STEM subjects).
 
On how and why physics should be taught to all students: (A) a text, https://teachologyforall.blogspot.com/2016/12/onphysics.html; (B) slides, http://www.gomars.xyz/1717.html, slides 59-61 point again at a relationship between cyber thinking and thinking.
Consistency demands to state that the success in study physics, math, chemistry is impossible without preceding success in reading, writing, arithmetic. Too often these days one can read that students do not need to learn handwriting because they can type, or students do not need to know multiplication table (just an example) because they can use a calculator. People who make those statements don’t know anything about leaning; and people who believe in those statements should stop walking because they can drive a car - the same logic!
Finally, we need to stress that the development of the advanced algorithmic thinking is impossible without the development of thinking ability – in general. Expecting the development of the advanced cyber or algorithmic thinking without making sure that the person has the mental and intellectual capabilities required for that, is like expecting that a person who can barely walk would win a Marathon.
Any type of thinking is happening in the brain. Advanced thinking requires advanced brain. As I like to say (www.GoMars.xyz/6LT.html): “If the only exercise students had been doing for twelve years is squats, they will not be good at push-ups and pull-ups. Do not expect from students an ability to think if all they had to do for twelve years was memorizing facts and rules”. 
I think the following analogy will be useful for IT professionals. The evolution of the growing brain due to regular exercise is similar to the evolution of a CPU due to engineering advances. 
In order to design an algorithm a person needs to be able to manipulate with a large number of mental objects, mental entities (the complexity of the algorithm is proportional to the required brain power).



That ability is based on another fundamental human ability - imagination! A  general public is used to think that imagination is only important for acting or writing. The fact is that one simply cannot succeed in any STEM related field without having a developed imagination.

Imagination needs to be trained and developed. This type of training requires a special methodology and a specific teaching technique (www.GoMars.xyz).
But in short, reading and writing is much more useful (hence more important) for the development of imagination than watching TV or playing video games.


Appendix:
A closer look at the current place of AI:

On a definition of AI

The Dawn of The New AI Era.

https://teachologyforall.blogspot.com/2017/12/newAI.html


To get to know me better, I would recommend to check the following three web-links 
(would not take more than 20 minutes of total time):
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