I’ve been thinking about a recent article by Mark Guzdial in which he talks about who he’s writing for. Guzdial is a public intellectual: his research is highly regarded by his fellow academics, but he also works hard to popularize and disseminate his ideas and those of others to a wider audience.
That wider audience is what I’ve been thinking about. According to Wikipedia, end-user programmers are people who aren’t professional software developers, but are nevertheless writing programs. By analogy, the people I focus on are end-user teachers: they don’t teach for a living, have little or no background in pedagogy, and (usually) don’t work in institutional classrooms, but are nevertheless trying to convey complex things in after-school classes, weekend workshops, and a wide variety of other free-range settings. Like lay preachers, they are more or less accepted by different communities: for example, 4H and amateur sports leagues rely heavily on end-user teachers.
End-user programmers often use different tools than professional software developers, often because the tools used by the latter are overkill for the former’s problems. Professionals are often dismissive of end-user tools: think about how programmers talk about spreadsheets. But depending on who’s counting and how, end-user programmers outnumber professionals several times over.
I suspect all of these things are true for end-user teachers as well. For example, they often don’t have the time or the training to create the artifacts that professionals would write for a province-wide math curriculum, but they don’t really need to, any more than someone trying to prepare a report on their school’s attendance rate needs to know about recursion or virtualization.
I’ve been thinking about this because I’m revising a chapter on pedagogical content knowledge for the next version of my book on teaching. I want to tell end-user teachers what current research has to say about teaching and learning computing; as an academic, I would hedge statements with disclaimers like, “Research may seem to indicate that…” but that feels like talking type theory to someone who wants consistent fonts in their web site. As Guzdial says, teachers, principals, and school administrators have to make decisions regardless of whether research has clear answers yet or not. End-user teachers have to do the same, and I think that giving them actionable approximations to the truth is just as useful as giving them scripting languages and spreadsheets.