Let’s Grow Digital Literacy in our Davis Schools Now

technology-classroomBy Jessica Chabot

We see a wide open door to the future for our children in the Davis Joint Unified School system, but we parents and educators need to walk right through that gate, bringing our children with us.

Every discipline, from biology to economics to music, is becoming a branch of information science, due to historic advances and due to the rapid restructuring of industry in every field.

Children need to learn the principles and practices of computer programming, of information science, and of systems design, in order to succeed in this new world — regardless of what career path they chose.

In the US, our educational systems are hard-pressed to keep up with these new requirements. Students in the US school system fare poorly when compared with counterparts in other countries, in terms of science and mathematics. But those are “old school” subjects.

The new subjects of computer science and software design are barely touched. In our own case, Davis High School has only 2 computer science classes, one pending approval.

Why should we parents and educators focus on digital literacy as a priority? Aren’t all the sciences important? Why pick information science over English, Art, or Social Science?

Actually, this view demonstrates the false dichotomy in which we are conceptually trapped.

Scratch the paint on almost any business these days and you will find a software company underneath.

Most of the legacy brick and mortar jobs our kids might have had are gone, replaced by software-associated versions of the old world. We need to prepare our kids for the world which is already here and expanding all around us, so that they are able to control their own software, and hence their own destinies.

A local example of the transformation we are living though is the demise of Border’s Books and Music, a store near and dear to us in Davis, while it existed. Borders sold off its ebook division to Amazon, saying ebooks were not strategic, keeping its brick and mortar stores. As we now know, this was “end of story” for Borders.

Amazon rules and Borders is a fond memory. Amazon is currently the largest bookseller in the world. As Mark Andreesen, the famous software designer and investor, points out in an essay, “Even the books themselves have become software.”

So the artists among our kids will need digital literacy to have control of their graphics software, potentially for web design coding, and to publish and protect their work, among other things.

Keeping our auto tech kids in the game means they need to have a grip on the software embedded in today’s cars, an increasing component, now 40% of the electronics for some cars, and especially for the hybrids.

Every line of study should have digital literacy embedded in the course work, if possible, in our opinion.

Another trend which should motivate us to begin embedding digital literacy in our schools is that our students now compete on a global scale for the same college spots and jobs with kids throughout the world. Our kids should be well prepared and be able to compete on a global scale. After all, it is here that the most successful tech companies have been started up: Google, Apple, Amazon, Twitter, Pixar, to name a few. We should be in touch with and generate programs which would be useful to kids who eventually apply to US tech companies for jobs.

The barriers to access as far as digital literacy goes in our Davis system are legion. Begin with the dearth of coding classes in the elementary schools. In this sense we are, unfortunately, in good company. Only 5% of US elementary schools have computer programming classes available to their kids. Yet this age is just when kids are able to pick up the basics easily. Instead of the boring old gray and white text of yore, there are wonderful new colorful languages. These are free for the taking and are kid friendly (Scratch.MIT.edu,), for example. These languages allow the child to create marvelous games and other work in the blink of an eye.

Looking at our older age group, at Davis High School and Da Vinci High, there are 2 classes in coding and robotics. The potential is clearly demonstrated, though: the high school robotics team is called Citrus Circuits. It is led by Steve Harvey, a Da Vinci High School math teacher. The team won its national competition. 50 teams participated in the regional competition, alone. Now Mr. Harvey has a class which will continue the robotics success and expand the knowledge of the involved students. We ask only, where are the other classes?

Why should computer programming be a universal requirement, and not simply an elective in our Davis Schools? Isn’t this an unnecessary expense, one which we can ill afford? Not everyone is interested in computer programming, after all.

One important reason to include everybody in the program is to eliminate the current and growing digital literacy divide.

Looking at major tech company diversity reports (Google, Facebook, Twitter) it is clear that girls and minority kids are, as they say, underrepresented. As well, they are vastly underrepresented in the pipeline toward computer science degrees, and therefore jobs.

With what other degree could a kid potentially spend 4 years in college and make a $100,000 walking out the door? And there is room for more, at this moment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 30% of the 1.4 million jobs created in CS-related fields will be able to be filled by 2020.”

But, in the case of girls, most universities report less than 10 percent of their female students pursue undergraduate degrees in computer science.

How could we embed digital literacy in our Davis schools?

We could build a systematic series of courses starting in elementary school which would reflect requirements of digital literacy, including a ladder of computer science classes beginning in kindergarten or first grade. We could include web design and 3D printing in art classes, bioinformatics in biology classes, and in general put elements of the new world right into the hands of our teachers and children.

So, will we parents and educators walk through the open door of the future and establish digital literacy in our schools for everyone, or will our district be invisibly bypassed in this digital age?

We hope our district leaders will take the bold steps needed to advance 21st century education in Davis.

Jessica Chabot is the Director of Davis Code Camp. Davis Code Camp is a new venture in computer education. Their eventually offer the full range of after-school and weekend courses in all aspects of digital arts and technology: software, animation, web design, and multi-media. For more information go to: daviscodecamp.com.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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8 Comments

  1. South of Davis

    Jessica wrote:

    > Children need to learn the principles and practices of computer
    > programming, of information science, and of systems design, in
    > order to succeed in this new world

    I agree and for the last 30 years (since a Korean war vet/football coach) tried to teach me about computer (and ended up having the kids teach HIM about computers) it has been painful for me to learn that after all these years 90% of “computer programming and information science” classes in the public schools are almost always way out of date. Having the typical person with a liberal arts/ed degree background is usually about as successful as sticking a 60 year old female “Home Economics” teacher in to an “Auto Shop” class and telling her to teach the kids how to rebuild a transmission or differential. I really think that we need to look in to a peer to peer model for IT classes since the average 16 year old boy knows more about the topic than the average elementary school teacher ever will…

    1. DavisVoter

      But South of Davis, don’t you realize that p.16 of the 2011/12 “Outcomes Precursor Community Pilot,” at bullet point 3, says (after correction of spelling errors): “Further optimize instructionality process/template/rubric for 21st-22nd century information society platforms”?

      That’s conclusive proof right there that the District has thoroughly considered your peer-to-peer idea and rejected it for excellent reasons.

      On a more serious note, I worry about the 16-year-old boys you mention exercising any kind of academic authority over other high school students. But I most certainly get the drift of your comment, having had similar experiences to yours myself.

      1. South of Davis

        DV wrote:

        > I worry about the 16-year-old boys you mention exercising any kind of
        > academic authority over other high school students

        I’m not saying that a 16 year old should have “academic authority” over other kids, I’m just saying that most (but not all) teachers can better “teach” a classroom full of kids how to connect their smartphone to the internet by sitting down and asking a 16 year old in the class to show them…

        1. DavisVoter

          By “academic authority,” I mean giving grades and running the classroom, administering discipline, etc. I wasn’t sure what you meant by “peer-to-peer model.” Anyway, it’s an interesting idea.

  2. Frankly

    In 1979 as I was a sophomore attending college where I took programming classes on FORTRAN and COBOL, I got interested in computers and got a job with a local life insurance company working in the Management Information Systems (MIS) department. From that point on I was on a rocket of professional and career change adaption. In 3 years my role was the computer operations manager. The “computer” was an IBM 360 145 mainframe that was the size of a camp trailer and cost the company a million dollars. Technicians opened doors and went inside it for repairs and maintenance. The disk drives were the size of commercial washing machines. So were the printers that cranked out reams and reams of folded greenbar paper. Memory and storage was measured in kilobytes, not gigabytes or terabytes. The mainframe and all the bus-and-tag cable-attached peripherals lived in the “machine room”. We had to wear ear protection in the early years due to the volume of the noise caused by all that “machinery”.

    In the next phase of my career, I became a programer and database engineer.

    As a side note, I was also a musician and liked to be on the cutting edge of music technology… for example, programming MIDI loops and tracks.

    Today the company I manage relies on smart phones and cloud computing to process our critical business data.

    All along the path from where I started to where I am today with respect to my job responsibilities and role as a recovering IT professional, I have had to constantly adapt to the rapid pace of technology change. I have had to constantly immerse myself into the next paradigm shift in computer and networking hardware and software. I had to learn to shed my bias of what I know because it was soon to be come what I knew and I would become as obsolete as an employee as quickly as did the technology.

    My career experience has a lot to do with my absolute lack of satisfaction with our education system. Other than my initial FORTRAN and COBOL classes, and some basic Intro to Data Processing, 95% of my education for what I needed to know about technology was provided by private industry training, or was self-taught.

    I see the education system as a school bus while the information economy is a high speed bullet train that is looking more and more like a rocket every day.

    I don’t see how our current system as designed is going to every keep up. It is, in fact, going to keep falling behind.

    I am absolutely in favor of teaching students about computer and network technology, and teaching them how to program. But given the slow speed at which the education system moves to adapt and adopt, the kids are going to quickly become more advanced, and their needs more advanced, than the schools will be able to satisfy. And so the schools will eventually do more harm than good forcing the kids to take classes that are behind and boring.

    We need to completely rethink education. We are not only holding back our kids, but we are failing to harness and exploit the opportunities in creativity that have allowed the US to continually lead the global economy starting with the turn of the 20th century.

  3. Davis Progressive

    i said this last time this topic came up – we still teach like its the 18th century and we have technology. i understand the barriers particularly with teachers uncomfortable with technology, but that just means we have to better train our teachers.

  4. tribeUSA

    Yes, for high school now perhaps a requirement of one class in introduction to computers should be required. It could be taught by math or science teachers, and include a general overview of main hardware components and function and how these components interact to form a ‘computer’, general principles of computers/computing and principles of software and how it works together with hardware. A ‘big picture’ class for the basic concepts, not a technical class.

    High schools should also be required to offer (and encourage, but not require, college-bound students to take) an introductory course in software; including concepts, flowcharting, and learning a simple language such as BASIC, with assignments including writing and executing a few small simple programs.

    Beyond that, perhaps an AP course offering of a more advanced course in hardware/software; or some high schools might have an agreement with a nearby community college for students with further interests in this direction.

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