We’ll Keep Building At York College

When I started at York College eleven years ago supporting the edtech department (aside –  holy crap this is the longest job I’ve ever held), I was given the opportunity to look at a proposal for a communications technology major that had been dormant since 1991. At first I was, “huh what’s communications technology, it’s new media man,” but new media became not-so-new-media.

Communications technology, commtech,CT, has stuck. And I think for the better.

We’re about to embark on a transformation of the major that will be the largest since its official start in 2003. It’s a crazy, laborious process to update curriculum at a college, but hopefully we’re making a change for the better. I’m excited to finally formalize the ethos of ds106 – digital storytelling into the major (it’s been an unofficial change for three semesters, ack!).

But I’m even more excited to explore the possibilties that might come out of the makerspace Daniel Phelps and I are about to build to support a Hacking and Building course, which will become a foundation course for us. The class is going to replace an introduction to computer science course which taught principally the basics of C++.

The idea of teaching the fundamentals of programming through C++, wasn’t necessarily problematic, but the way the course has been taught was. Semester after semester the CT majors struggled to find any recognizable value for the class, which ultimately is really disappointing. We wanted the students to discover the value of coding as an opportunity to see how digital tools are built. And more importantly how they can be hacked.

Hacked not to do anything malicious of course, that’s such a 1990’s definition of hacking, but to make them your own. And to see that this should be an inherint approach to digital tools, as much as we imagine getting under the hood and modifying cars makes sense.

We’re going to pilot our hacking and building course this spring, and I’m so excited to be a student in the course as much as helping Daniel teach it (ok he wrote the course so I’m fully in a chair, not standing a lecturn). And Tim Owen’s work on the UMW makerspace deserves a huge shout-out for inspiring us as well. See below:



2 responses to “We’ll Keep Building At York College”

  1. Tim Owens Avatar

    I think a C++ programming class is the perfect opportunity to rethink this stuff in. We bought quite a few Arduino Inventor Kits (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11227) and they do a great job of introducing the idea of circuitry and sensors alongside programming to make things happen. What’s great is that you don’t just program to see something on a screen, you see LEDs light up, you make music. It’s a visual way of learning and understanding with results that you can hold in your hand (which is also why I’ve always loved the 3D printing).

  2. mbransons Avatar

    I agree it would be perfect, but we’ve sadly had no luck convincing our CS department to experiment with their curriculum. So the new course is one that we’re sponsoring and Danny will be teaching. Maybe if we have some good results and spark some interest from the CS majors, the faculty will come along.