Dublin GTUG – Hackerspaces and the formal education system

Last tuesday night myself and Carl headed up to Dublin for a few meetings, and also got to drop into Google European HQ for the Dublin Google Technologies User Group event. Arriving a little late we got into the start of the talk by Google Dev Advocate, Martin Omander about the new Google Prediction and Storage APIs. Quite an interesting talk and some pretty neat demos with the prediction API. 

Hackerspaces & the Formal Education System

The main focus of the talks for me was a panel discussion about the topic of hackerspaces and how we could somehow integrate them into formal education, and a general discussion of how we could change the system to involve proper computing subjects in the secondary and even primary eduction here in Ireland. This talk was of great interest to me personally, I am extremely passionate about encouraging more young people into the world of technology and programming here in Ireland. The discussion was chaired by Bill Liao and the panellists consisted of James Whelton (Founder & CEO @DisruptiveDev) Mark Deegan (DIT Lecturer), John Looney (Google), Mark Cunningham (DIT student), Martin Mitchell (in gainful employment).

Programming Subject in schools

There is a massive hole in Ireland’s eduction of IT and more specifically programming. It simply doesn’t exist. The best you get is how to do a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. There is no creativity and fun involved in that and it puts negative connotations on the subject as being boring, which is far from the truth. For me, as a games developer, I love the fact that I can write code and then see it come alive in front of me and I’m quite sure many young people would love to be able to create their own games, as so many young people play games everyday.
 
I believe if an engaging, practical, and fun programming subject was introduced into schools it would have a massive positive effect. It would not only be a great subject for giving young people a taste of programming/IT but also help bind usefulness and meaning to subjects like maths, physics and even others. For me I struggled with maths for many years in secondary school and when it came to the leaving cert I had to put in enormous amounts of effort to achieve my minimum grade for the game development course I currently study on. My point is that I was never good at maths and didn’t really see the point in getting the derivative of an equation or finding X.
 

 
Though when I came to college, maths was thought as a problem solving tool, rather than “you’re doing this because it’ll be on the leaving cert, doesn’t matter why.” This approach, coupled with programming algorithms to solve problems, is amazing. Now I really enjoy maths and the ability to think logically to solve a problem, I have even entered logic solving programming competitions. Simply the approach to teaching something makes all the difference.
 
There needs to be reform of our approach to teaching in this country and critically in subjects that will help drive what’s known as the knowledge economy. Every week there are new jobs created in software and technology. We must support this growing sector with a strong educational backbone and not just from third-level on. It needs to start young, use a computer a basic skill nowadays, like a form of literacy. Bill Liao at the talk even went on to say that he believes programming is a basic form literacy and I would agree in this day and age it is no longer a minority group of people involved in computers, they surround and encompass our everyday lives.
 
This discussion is one I am quite passionate about and when I ordinarily wrote this post it stretched quite a few pages. So I will conclude here for now, though I hope to continue to address these pressing issues about science related eduction here in Ireland and how we can change the system.

Coder Dojo

This is a great initiative set up by James Whelton and Bill Liao, which is essentially a hackerspace for young people to get involved and learn about things like HTML, CSS, JavaScript and various other technologies. Their first event was in Cork on Saturday 23rd of July, and will continue every Saturday, so check out the website for more information about how to get involved as a mentor and the like. James and Bill are hoping to get Coder Dojos up and running in Dublin and Galway soon.

 

Myself and Carl will hopefully be getting involved with the Coder Dojo project, and we also have plans of our own to get involved in running game development workshops in schools around Ireland, but more on that later this year. We will also be involved with the Dublin SkillShare project, set up by Beth Kocher where we will be doing a beginner’s introduction course to game development with HTML5 sometime in October, more details on that later in the year.

 

Ok, well, that was meant to be a quick post, though I’m quite passionate about the topic of education and programming, so I do tend to rant. Anyway, watch this space for more information on the initiatives I spoke about in the post, and as always do follow us on twitter, facebook, etc. Thanks

About the Author

Ciarán McCann

Flax Project Founder - Ciarán McCann is an extremely passionate and motivated programmer who has been programming for about 4 years now. Currently attending Carlow I.T studying computer games development. He has experience in many different programming languages, markup languages and general technologies. His role in the Flax Project is as a blogger/Web Designer and Flax Engine programmer. Please excuse any bad grammar/spelling, I am a bit on the Dyslexic side. Follow me on Twitter for info on what I am working on.

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