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Has The 'Hour of Code' Turned Into a Giant Corporate Infomercial? (theregister.co.uk) 88

It happens every December. During "Computer Science Education Week," schools around the world dedicate a special hour towards getting kids excited about programming. But theodp writes: With Microsoft, Apple, and Google vying for the opportunity to put their products in front of tens of millions of K-12 students, The Register's Andrew Orlowski opines that the Hour of Code is turning into a giant corporate infomercial for kids. "Parents, such as the late Steve Jobs, tend to ration their children's use of technology," notes Orlowski. "But would Jobs, who consistently praised the value of broad liberal arts, approve of an hour of [Microsoft] Minecraft? It's doubtful." Google, he adds, is keen on dishing out its VR headsets to students and, not to be undone, Apple is also muscling in with an hour of code [and offering free workshops at Apple Stores].
This year Microsoft is even introducing a special online 'Hour of Code' edition" of Minecraft, according to the article, which points out that last year 31 million schoolchildren just spent their "Hour of Code" playing Minecraft.
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Has The 'Hour of Code' Turned Into a Giant Corporate Infomercial?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I thought it always rather felt that way...Look at us! Education! Mind Share!

  • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @10:39AM (#53365267) Homepage Journal

    Has The 'Hour of Code' Turned Into a Giant Corporate Infomercial?

    Wasn't it always? Or did people really think that following a script actually imparted some insight into the world of programming?

    • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by narcc ( 412956 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @10:53AM (#53365331) Journal

      I don't see why it wouldn't. A lot of kids started off back in the 80's with type-in programs. A lot of the Hour of Code activities seem similar, but now augmented with helpful annotations. That seems like an improvement to me.

      There's a strange belief here that learning to program ought be a painful rite of passage to weed out the undeserving. It used to just be a fun hobby the average kid could pick-up in a few days.

      • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Informative)

        by kenh ( 9056 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @11:09AM (#53365405) Homepage Journal

        There's a strange belief here that learning to program ought be a painful rite of passage to weed out the undeserving.

        No, it's that it should be something a child is actually drawn to, not an activity forced down their throat to perform in lock-step with thirty other classmates.

        It used to just be a fun hobby the average kid could pick-up in a few days.

        But not in a scripted hour in a group activity led by a teacher with no idea what they are doing...

        • But how will a kid know if they are drawn to programming if it is never introduced? It's not like all 30 of those kids have parents doing that, or even a computer at home other than a tablet or smartphone.

          • Re: Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 26, 2016 @12:04PM (#53365653)

            Did you know that in 1986, long before the Internet was at the home, and before programming was a popular profession, thousands of now grey-haired slashtards like me looked at a computer and thought "how do I make my own game?" And then picked up a book from the box or the library and made it happen. I didn't need my parents to shove it down my throat, and would have rebelled if they had. I didn't need a school to torture me with stupid boring bullshit. I rebelled against that too. However, a C64 and a book and I was in business. Even worse, I had a commodore, and the only magazine at the library was for the Apple II so I had to port the games. Somehow, it worked, though my code still looks like a flowchart instead of objects. Believe it or not, young one, children can learn how to code on their own, just fine.

            Software architecture, however, must be learned though blood, tears, sweat, screaming and sadomasichism.

            • And yet you still had a C64. I think I'm probably the same age as you, by the way, based on your timeline. For me it was an Apple IIe and it was 1984. But my parents bought that because it is what they had at my school (and an upgrade from the II+ my dad used at work). My parents were awesome and got me computer magazines (with the programs to type in by hand...) to support my habit. There are a substantial number of kids with XBoxes, smartphones, and tablets, but you wouldn't believe how many households ha

              • I had an Atari800. Wanted an apple, but it was 4x as much. And my parents were strongly opposed to me having a computer, I had to pay for it myself.
                Do you know how hard it is for a 10 year old kid to come up with $800 ($2000 in 2016 inflated money)? But I did. And it still took a lot of convincing them to both let me buy it and then to let me use it.

                Supercomputers are given away today in cereal boxes and kids complain about how hard they have it....

                • Supercomputers are given away today in cereal boxes and kids complain about how hard they have it....

                  no, they dont complain. which is part of the problem.

                  as long as facebook and instasnap are running on their phones, they are fine.

                  with a c64 or any other computer back at the days, you couldnt do anything without putting some effort or creativity in.

                  as a poster said two posts up, we asked oursekves: how can we make our own games? THAT is was no one does anymore. computers became the new TVs, consuming pre made software

            • It was an Apple ][+ starting at age 9 for me. My 11th birthday present was a copy of Rodney Zacks programming the 6502 (imported from the USA). I still have it.

              I believe the immediacy of basic and the simplicity of 8 bit machine code was effective at drawing people in.

            • by thomn8r ( 635504 )
              s/1986/1981/g
          • Using your logic only; explain how *I* became drawn to programming at a time when there were *NO* courses for such anywhere but in college and votech, the general public was almost completely ignorant of them, you would have to purchase a business computer because home computers, tablets and smartphones didn't exist.

          • by kenh ( 9056 )

            It's not like all 30 of those kids have parents doing that, or even a computer at home other than a tablet or smartphone.

            Think about it - those thirty kids are all sitting in a classroom with computers for their "Hour of Coding" (TM) - access to a computer isn't the barrier.

            Before the internet people programmed their home computers because it was the only way to do anything with them - with the internet any number of apps/games can be downloaded onto their phone, tablet, computer...

            • Agree 100%. All of those kids have access to insane supercomputer hardware by 80s standards. But there is no enigmatic blinking cursor...

        • >No, it's that it should be something a child is actually drawn to, not an activity forced down their throat to perform in lock-step with thirty other classmates.

          Why single out computer science here? Why mandate English, math, science, etc. for students?

          Because the sad reality is that a student has to apply for a major in college *prior to taking classes at that college*. So they need to be exposed to every subject they might be interested in in the K-12 system, and maybe they don't know that they'll lik

      • so true!
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There's a strange belief here that learning to program ought be a painful rite of passage to weed out the undeserving.

        If you have to try, you probably shouldn't be doing it. At least not professionally.

        It used to just be a fun hobby the average kid could pick-up in a few days.

        Don't let a jerk like me tell you not to do what you enjoy.

        80% of people who try taking programming at a college level, fail in the first two semesters
        20% of those who don't immediately fail will eventually fail and not graduate with the major
        50% of those who actually make it to graduation "should not be programming", to paraphrase some of the world's leading CS teachers who have been trying to make learning CS easier

        • 50% of those who actually make it to graduation "should not be programming", to paraphrase some of the world's leading CS teachers who have been trying to make learning CS easier for decades, working with some of the best and trying everything.

          Said 'leading CS teachers' should not be programming. But that's a pretty redundant point of view, because they AREN'T programming. Except little sandbox exercises from their Ivory Towers.

    • Wasn't it always? Or did people really think that following a script actually imparted some insight into the world of programming?

      Through the glasses of history you're you're overestimating what you did at that age or underestimating what a child at that age is able to do.

      Now that I have kids I finally sat down and look at what I was doing at those ages. My first exposure programming was Hypertalk. The stuff that I did at that age didn't "impart some insight". It did teach me syntax, how to debug, etc. Then programming my TI-83, then my TI-89, then PHP, Matlab, Java, C, C++, Python with HTML, Perl and Javascript thrown in there at tim

      • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @01:00PM (#53365973)
        They last damn person on earth I want teaching programming is a K-12 teacher. Do you seriously want programming to fall under the umbrella of the same people who have embraced fuzzy math and other "new" educational concepts? Do you want programming degrading in quality at the accelerated rate that reading, writing, art, math, and everything else taught in school has been?
        • Where did people earning PhDs in Math first learn Math?

          • I have a BS in math and I still don't know it. It is in applied math and while I'm good at solving and understanding engineering math problems, I never got the hang of proofs, I think mostly because I had not interest in it. If the engine started and ran to specifications, that is all the proof that I required.
          • Where did people earning PhDs in Math first learn Math?

            In the case of my family, from my wife the K-12 teacher (back then - she since went back to college and got a PhD). Having a grown child with a PhD in math is rather handy.

            The idea that current teachers have adopted fuzzy math and new concepts is complete bullshit. They are caught in a repetitive swing cycle between procedural teaching and learning through problem solving. This has been going on for a century, back forth. Teaching underlying principles that parents never understood is what opens the path to

  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @11:05AM (#53365387)
    It's like having "book hour" or "music hour" once a year. At our school the kids get 2 periods per week for tech (straight coding, sure, or movie making, or web, or animation or embedding code into robotics, or Arduino or AR or etc...) and then can articulate that with other subjects. One hour is barely even inspiring, especially if there is not a structure to keep it going, and in this case history repeats: IIRC Seymour Papert said having a computer in every classroom back in the 80s was like having one piece of toilet paper in each room of your house. It's not hurting anything per se but it's a lot more useful if brought together in the right time and place.
  • Mindcraft (Score:4, Informative)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @11:13AM (#53365423) Homepage

    Companies like this have no idea how to educate your child. That's not what they are interested in. Participation in the hour of code stuff is pure brand building. Look, kids, you can play Minecraft on your school iPads thanks to Microsoft! Google it now!

    As someone who's worked their entire professional career in school IT, a shocking number of companies have no idea what education actually is or how it works or what's needed. RPi was a great example. Throw the device at kids with absolutely no educational content ready, nothing to give to teachers to aid them along, and don't even bother to come to educational conferences, just let others sell it for you on the basis of a name.

    I don't know a single school that has more than a couple of them, and they are rarely used for anything but the default image, "load up Scratch, wasn't that cool?, right back to work".

    If you think you're going to teach teenagers coding by using Scratch and Minecraft (which, admittedly, has logic circuits etc.) then you're sadly failing a generation whose parents were using BBC BASIC on the ONE computer in their school when they were 8/9. Seriously, even something like TIS-100 or SpaceChem does more for problem solving, logic constraints and the coding mindset than Scratch and similar (which is basically drag-drop-flow-chart, which we used to call "Control", not programming).

    My school have the Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer devices, same problem. The curriculum content covered is minimal, most of it is left in the hands of the teacher, so you get a single example project that they make themselves familiar with, every kid does it the same, builds it the same, loads up the same example code, and apart from the real outliers that tinker on their own, nobody learns anything.

    As a coder, a mathematician, there is nothing scarier than how little of how the computer actually works is taught in schools. Because the teacher's don't know either. I've worked in dozens of schools over the years and met dozens of IT teachers and primary school teachers who are required to teach IT. I've met precisel three teachers I'd trust to write a program - one a mathematics teacher who programmed in COBOL in a previous one, one a former industrial control specialist who went into teaching, the other my brother who teaches physics but studied maths in uni and was taught FORTRAN.

    With the exception of the industrial control guy, not ONE of the IT teachers I've met or worked with has a clue about programming or how to program or would even get an XKCD or Dilbert joke about coders or similar. I wouldn't trust any of them to build a machine, network a room, or anything else. And that's worrying because that means they are not "Computer Science", they are "Computing". An end-user, not a creator.

    Sure, they can teach the kids to do silly things in Scratch and knock up an assessment sheet in Excel, but anything more than that and you wouldn't want them near it.

    And those are the people TEACHING the specialist subject of IT that - in the UK - is required to be a part of teaching in all subjects.

    My teachers, back in my day, had no IT equipment, experience, or knowledge. And they did a better job because they knew it was the future and knew it was vital and they learned it and made us.

    Nowadays, everything is computing so as long as you're proficient with a bit of typing and know where the print button is in Word when the teacher loses you, you're a genius.

    I help run after-school clubs targeting coding, in an exclusive private school. We've had hundreds of top-class pupils comes through our doors. I've met precisely one who stood a chance of being a half-decent coder. All the others think that pressing F12 in Chrome and changing the local cached HTML front page of BBC News to read "Fred Bloggs is a Wally" is "hacking".

    People just don't code nowadays. And Microsoft et al have no intention to teach them, because it keeps them as MS's mercy. They will never understand how si

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You can't teach kids how computers work because of one dirty little secret:

      "Most industry professionals don't know how they work either."

      Sure, I can tell you some of the principles that drove the early x86 chips and the venerable 6502 but chip technology has advanced so far now that most of that stuff is irrelevant. A handful of companies, if put together, might be able to build up a reasonable picture of what's going on - the rest of us don't stand a chance. Also, all this information is top secret intelle

    • My teachers, back in my day, had no IT equipment, experience, or knowledge. And

      And back in your teachers' teachers' day they didn't have HVAC, indoor bathrooms or know about anything that had been invented after they came along.

      All the others think that pressing F12 in Chrome and changing the local cached HTML front page of BBC News to read "Fred Bloggs is a Wally" is "hacking"

      And? 90% of the code I use when I first start a language is copy and paste. Not everyone learns through composition, some of us learn by decomposing something else.

    • RPi was a great example

      If you think the RPi was an example then you fundamentally don't understand what the Raspberry Pi Foundation is. They aren't there to educate anyone, they are just there to enable. The education component was always supposed to come from elsewhere.

      If you think you're going to teach teenagers coding

      And now you're demonstrating that you don't understand the purpose of the Hour of Code either. That is responsible for getting people interested in something. Again education comes from elsewhere.

      At least you're spot on about the teachers.

  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @11:31AM (#53365503) Homepage
    You dont spend 45 years teaching people to mindlessly consume technology and then suddenly expect them to become software engineers. These are the same multinational corporations that have fought hard against hacker culture with everything from the 'dont copy that floppy' campaign to DMCA takedowns and international raids against "suspected hackers." These are the same people that led a witch hunt against Aaron Schwartz for his 'hour of code.' The same corporations that insist their source is sacrosanct, their licenses indelible, and their "intellectual property" unquestionable. many would argue they are the least qualified, if at all capable, of ensuring a future america can write so much as a hello world.

    Minecraft is slowly rearing its head as one of microsofts worst decisions. Yes it had a lot of users, but not a lot of new users. sure, you can create logic engines in it, but the average 11 year old on minecraft isnt doing that. Notch walked away with the bulk of minecrafts real profit, leaving microsoft to shepherd servers and find new ways to milk a cow he gave up on years ago after the food mechanic. the MS deal alienated a lot of hackers/coders who enjoyed writing mods for the platform and saw it as just another thing gobbled up by redmond to be slowly bled dry through incompetent mismanagement.
    • "the MS deal alienated a lot of hackers/coders who enjoyed writing mods for the platform and saw it as just another thing gobbled up by redmond to be slowly bled dry through incompetent mismanagement."

      Pretty much everything Redmond touches turns to shit. I'm hard pressed to name something they've touched that hasn't, frankly.

      • Pretty much everything any large corporation touches turns to shit. Think EA and the various studios and franchises it bought and squeezed the last drop out of. Westwood, Maxis, Bullfrog... how many more.

        As soon as something is big enough to raise the interest of a large corporation, it will be bought and rest assured that it will not survive this for long. Anything that exists only because there are modders and plugin writers that contribute for free will not survive the takeover by a corporation that want

      • by antdude ( 79039 )

        MS hardwares like mice, joysticks, etc.?

        • MS hardwares like mice, joysticks, etc.?

          I could be wrong, but I don't think they originated those up by buying another company that made them.

          That said, I think most of the hardware MS puts out is fairly decent. Not great, but decent.

          Any software they acquire, on the other hand, is an almost certain "lets make it suck" saga.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      Minecraft is slowly rearing its head as one of microsofts worst decisions. Yes it had a lot of users, but not a lot of new users. sure, you can create logic engines in it, but the average 11 year old on minecraft isnt doing that. Notch walked away with the bulk of minecrafts real profit, leaving microsoft to shepherd servers and find new ways to milk a cow he gave up on years ago after the food mechanic. the MS deal alienated a lot of hackers/coders who enjoyed writing mods for the platform and saw it as just another thing gobbled up by redmond to be slowly bled dry through incompetent mismanagement.

      Sometimes a fad product is just a fad. Minecraft was a great game, but only because it had a novel idea at the right time. It's not a particularly clever idea or even a patentable one. Seeing Microsoft invest so much is analogous to Target purchasing Ty (beanie baby company).

    • Well, there's Minetest now...
  • "Has The 'Hour of Code' Turned Into a Giant Corporate Infomercial?"

    Yes, for fuck's sake. Yes it has turned Into a giant corporate infomercial. If Apple or Microsoft or Google are involved, the answer is "yes".

    Stop asking these dumbass questions with embarrassingly obvious answers.

    • by Imrik ( 148191 )

      I think the answer is actually no. The phrase "turned into" implies that it wasn't always.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Saturday November 26, 2016 @12:32PM (#53365779) Journal

    Has it "turned into" implies that it wasn't basically that from the start.

    The idea that every kid should know how to code is stupid. The majority of people in the developed world, much less the REST of the world, can get on comfortably through their entire lives never knowing a line of code.

    There's too many things people already need to know (that they generally don't) to waste time advancing such a narrow agenda.

    • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

      There's too many things people already need to know (that they generally don't) to waste time advancing such a narrow agenda.

      They should have an "Hour of Home Finances" instead. And teach people how to balance their checkbook and create a household budget.

  • Large companies are allowed to get the focus of school year kids and you think they won't advertise? Wow, just wow. Next we'll hear that Trump is milking the American public for all they are worth!
  • "The Disney 2016 tutorial, Moana: Wayfinding with Code [disney.com], will bring the Hour of Code to students around the world for Computer Science Education Week and beyond!," exclaims the Disney Hour of Code Digital Toolkit [dolimg.com]. "Since 2014, The Walt Disney Company has worked with Code.org to build Hour of Code tutorials featuring Disney characters that inspire kids of all ages to try coding. Disney and Code.org's 2014 Hour of Code tutorial featured Anna and Elsa from Frozen and in 2015 the tutorial featured Rey, BB-8, Pri

  • >just spent their "Hour of Code" playing Minecraft.

    This is absolute bull.
    My 6yo daughter enjoyed code.org sessions, PROGRAMMING minecraft characters with for loops, if statements and such.
    Not playing it.
    There is a difference.

    The minecraft lessons were really well done, with intermezzo's of Mojang programmers explaining stuff in videos.
    It get's a thumbs up from this parent, at least.

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