My local community college allows people to attend for free after they turn sixty which I did this May.
It also offers certification tracks as well as traditional degree objectives. Itching to get started, I enrolled in summer school, even though the courses I wanted were not offered until fall. I enrolled in the Excel Class to get an MCAS/MOS certification, and I decided to take an introduction to programming logic course even though I probably knew most of what the course would cover. I told my advisor (who also turned out to be our instructor) that I thought it would be a good way to get my feet wet, and that I figured that about 70% of the course would be a good review, and 30% would be new material. He agreed and signed me on.
I had so much fun with this programming logic course. It was so interesting to be able to compare my training 25 years ago not only to see how much the content had changed but also how the student population had changed, and how the methods of teaching the content had changed. I was a bit surprised at how much the content had NOT changed - much of the material sounded like it came straight from my programming classes 25 years ago. Of course the review was helpful. I was impressed with how much the teaching methods had changed. In the first place, we did not learn programming logic separately from a programming language 25 years ago. Unfortunately the language we learned was BASIC - various interpreter versions, plus a souped-up compiler version, which looked more like C and Pascal. Still, not really a big seller in today's market or even that of yesteryear. I liked immensely that Ivy Tech taught the programming logic part separately from imprinting us on a “dead” language.
The textbook used this summer - Starting Out with Programming Logic & Design by Tony Gaddis was WONDERFUL. I was amazed at how simple it made concepts that once seemed so hard, and I appreciated the simplified real-world applications and examples. About the only fault I could find is that the text almost explained things too much. Adhering to pedagogical best-practice, it explained what it was going to show us (the concepts and algorithms). Then it showed us (the pseudocode and flowcharts). And then it explained what it just showed us (more paragraphs). Sometimes I was like, Okay I get it already, all these words are just slowing me down. But taking the time to process that right-brained intuitive grasp of things through the language center is an essential part of learning a software package- and especially beneficial if you will be training or supporting that software later on. As I read on, I sometimes discovered there was more to be learned. So I usually didn't skip. Part of learning is giving yourself enough breathing space, treating your brain to the luxury of a nice-long soak, taking time to renew an old acquaintance-ship rather than just giving it another passing nod as you dash by at a dead run. That's something you learn as you get older. ;)
At the end of the semester the instructor told me he had enjoyed having me in class and that he hoped it was worth my time. It truly was. I think there’s perhaps an overlooked demand by colleges and universities for providing an affordable, doable way for IT professionals to stay current. I have to wonder how many of the people I went through classes with at Purdue are even still in the field. (I know one person who was convinced that computer technology was a better major than computer science who has since become a hospitalist.) People get knocked out of the IT field by rapid progress and lack of opportunity at work to keep up with it, and they often don’t realize that they need to keep going back to school. Gone is the era of when you're through, you're through - albeit just for a while. While the necessity of keeping up in one's field has always been a given, we used to have an expectation of moving on after finishing our education. When many of us finished our first 12, 16, 18, or 20 or so years of schooling, we were ready to discover that big world outside of school - work, relationships, hobbies, etc. If we did decide to go back to school, it was either to explore something entirely different (like I did with my programming degree) or to pursue an advanced degree (like I did with my Ed Tech degree). We also used to have different expectations for professional development opportunities. Times have changed and like the summer rains, many of us are flooding the hallowed halls of learning, our book bags and bifocals in tow, this time to earn certifications and to upgrade our skills in the same fields we started with not not that long ago.
1Scaffolding, a concept introduced by Lev Vygotsky, proposes, among other things, that students can go further faster if you can find ways to scaffold them (my rough definition). This has to do with a student's "zone of proximal development which is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help."
2Constructivism's basic tenet is that knowledge is not so much transmitted as it is constructed. While a teacher or a text may present material, in the end the student must have encoded the information structures in his own brain to be able to use and retrieve them, a process known as knowledge construction, which also dovetails with theories of Cognitive Psychology. As a learning theory, Constructivism is more about a change in focus. It eschews traditional teacher-lead methods to suggest that learning activities be intentional in helping facilitate or scaffold the knowledge construction process. This approach is referred to as being more student-centered.