“Inteview | Code Together Now” by Victor Rivero first appeared on Edcetera.
Having dabbled with code ever since her elementary school computer class exposure to BASIC, Hillary Cage has picked up bits and pieces along the way, but still doesn’t actually consider herself a hardcore programmer. A few twists and turns through the years brought her back to her hometown of Bloomington, Indiana to pursue a master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction Design at Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing. (Her undergraduate degree in International Relations at Carleton College taught her many things — “although few of which pertained to finding an actual career,” she says.) After completing her master’s in 2009, Hillary became the user experience designer with FormAssembly, another Bloomington startup. She then joined the Code Together team in March 2011, and she’s loved every minute of it. “I decided to take on leadership of Code Together because of the many and growing opportunities for collaborative technologies on the web,” she says. “I’m excited to see where we will take Code Together as Treaty (an embeddable document editor) and Squad continue to grow.” Squad, an online collaborative text editor (https://squadedit.com), is a simple, flexible, on-demand solution to editing and sharing code, no matter where you are. Squad for Education (https://edu.squadedit.com) was launched in Fall 2011 as a tool to support collaboration and pair programming in higher education classrooms. Read on to hear Hillary’s thoughts about teaching coding at the university level and Squad’s future in higher education.
Victor: What are the common issues facing most universities today when attempting to teach students coding?
Hillary: There are several issues in teaching students to code at the university level. First, many university computer science programs are teaching today’s students with the same curriculum and languages they used 10 years ago. While basic programming principles remain the same regardless of language (as long as you stay within the object-oriented languages), why not teach students these principles with languages that are currently in common use? Another issue facing universities is the fact that most students enter the university without any training in coding or computer science, whereas their counterparts studying biology, chemistry, or English have had at minimum a few years of instruction. Universities must therefore attract students to a new and unfamiliar field at a time in their lives when many other aspects are also new and unfamiliar, so a coding class is rarely a comfortable place for a student.
Victor: Was Squad created with universities in mind? Who is the product’s target audience?
Hillary: When Squad first launched in 2009, it was not created specifically with universities in mind. However, we completely redesigned Squad for Education based on the advice of professors and students through our beta test. We have incorporated some features of Squad for Education into our main Squad product.
Victor: Can you explain the success Indiana University experienced when testing the product? How was it used in their environment?
Hillary: During the beta test at Indiana University, Squad was used by students in two introductory computer science classes during lab periods. The curriculum had always called for students to work in pairs, but generally had required two students to a single computer, sitting side by side. With Squad, the students were able to sit where they liked and where there was space available but they could still work together. In addition, students were able to work on their projects outside of lab without needing to physically meet up. The students liked the flexibility Squad provided, and the professors liked the ability to virtually pop into a group’s session to observe work and to quickly pair students within Squad.
Victor: With the growth of online education, do you see tools that allow collaboration across various locations becoming increasingly necessary?
Hillary: Online education is definitely accelerating the need for real-time collaboration regardless of location. In many cases, online meeting tools or screen sharing programs are repurposed for document sharing or other educational needs, but these tools are not optimized for education or the actual tasks required, and so they are a poor substitute for a tool designed specifically for online education in a specific field.
Victor: Can you explain specifically how a professor would leverage the tool to teach his students?
Hillary: There are several different ways for a professor to leverage Squad for teaching, but I think the most likely at this time is a situation similar to the one we observed at Indiana University. In this situation, the professor probably has one hundred or more students in the class, broken out into lab groups that meet at various times during the week. Since most curricula include group work during labs, Squad is an ideal tool for facilitating collaboration while not requiring students to share a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. In addition, Squad is an ideal tool for group projects as it allows students to work together without actually meeting in the same location.
Victor: Now, on to some rather broad topics: What are your thoughts on education in general these days?
Hillary: Well, that is a very large question, so I will try to tackle only a small piece of it. It’s very popular to talk about the STEM subjects right now, and to note that the U.S. is behind many other nations in terms of number of students who pursue those subjects and go on to be professionals in those fields. My hope is that with increased incorporation of technology into daily classroom activities will come increased interest and curiosity from students about what makes those technologies work and an earlier introduction to the practical and creative side of STEM subjects, as opposed to purely theoretical or rote exposure to math and sciences.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?
Hillary: Education is experiencing the beginning of a sea change that has been working through the world for a decade or so. Educators and educational institutions are starting to embrace new technologies that vastly increase the amount of information students can access and use, and are learning to adapt curricula to these new realities. Education, like commerce before it, can become more efficient and effective, while also helping students when and where they need it most.
Victor: Any final thoughts you’d like to leave university staff and faculty with, regarding technology and learning?
Hillary: With all the new technologies appearing, it can be difficult to differentiate between tools that are worth trying and those that are not. The best tools will always be those that were designed and tested to be effective in the educational realm, rather than targeting it as an afterthought.
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest, a popular edtech publication focusing on cool tools, leadership and trends in education technology that annually recognizes products, people and organizations.. Write to: [email protected]