My colleague, Ellen Guerra, works to use technology to help the developing nation of Liberia. She and I were talking recently about her project to teach programming in Python in the i Lab in Liberia. The i Lab is the most advanced computing lab in Liberia with the best bandwidth — but it’s still pretty awful. Ellen said that they figured out that simply downloading Open Office to the iLab would take 14 hours. With that kind of bandwidth, you think carefully before you download Ides and different Python distributions. This limits what kind of technology you can provide for learning.
We got to talking about our work in Cs Learning, and the challenges of teaching computing in high schools. I told her about the Alice project report which found that they couldn’t install Alice because the computers in their high schools had CD/DVD drives removed and all the USB ports filled by glue gun. I told her about Light bot, which is a cool programmable activity being used in several of the CS:Principles pilots – but Light bot can’t be used in most Atlanta-area schools, because the activity is hosted on a games website which is blocked by the county’s firewall. As far as we can tell, nobody in the county has the ability to nu-block a site. It’s pretty easy to add site to the blocked list, though. All of this limits the kinds of technology that we can provide for learning in high school computing courses.
We then realized that learning computing in US high schools is like learning programming in the developing world. While Atlanta-area schools have better connectivity than in Liberia, and better computers in general, they are so locked down that the constraints are pretty similar. In fact, the folks in Liberia can access Light bot (even if too slowly), so they really have more flexibility than Atlanta-area schools. If you develop a great technology for teaching programming in US high schools, you better be browser-based, and host it on a server that’s not blocked by firewalls. Otherwise, you might be better off offering it to Liberia.