Friday, January 15, 2010

Applying the Bauhaus Manifesto to IT Education

Discussing with my ANU colleagues what should be done about IT education of IT professionals with my I was stuck by the similarity of many of the ideas to the Bauhaus Manifesto. This was written by Walter Gropius for the arts and crafts school in 1919.

Gropius was an architect and believed that the ultimate aim of all creative activity is building. He argued that the craft and art had drifted apart and needed to be reunited. To do this the Bauhaus combined architects, painters and sculptors, with the crafts in a workshop. This may seem a long way from what computer programmers and software engineers do, but there are echoes in his description of the "pattern-designer" and "applied artist", in contrast to fine arts. The term "pattern design" should seem familiar to software engineers, as the idea of "Pattern language" was adapted from architecture. The arguments about pure versus applied arts in the early part of the 20th century are much the same as computer science versus software engineering in the 21sdt Century. How much is this a theoretical practice and how much practical hands on implementation.

Gropius argued that education was needed in both, combined. The result was the idea of workshop based training and students doing the same foundation education, before specializing an a particular field. This practice is still followed by many architecture schools today. As to how well it worked at the Bauhaus will never be known as the school was shut down after 14 years of difficult operations in Germany between two world wars.

The same issues apply to IT now as they did to arts: While a wide curriculum may be good for the students, can teachers trained in narrow specializations adapt to teach it? Will the students be accepted by conservative processions and employers? Can such programs be coordinated? Can ordinary people teach and learn from such courses, or are they only for a few exceptionally gifted individuals?

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