Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Rasberry Pi Is Launched

The Raspberry Pi is launched and officially on sale... probably. The problem is that the sales website seems to have gone into meltdown with the volume of people hitting it this morning. :-)

QR Code from @RaspberryPi
I've mentioned the Raspberry Pi before (see ET Phone Home!) and, now that it's here, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact it has beyond the already converted - like me for instance.

As far as programming is concerned, I tell my students that sometimes, in an effort to make programming accessible, we end up making it boring. It may not help children to learn programming if we spoon feed them everything. There is a danger that all that happens is we teach children to follow a set of instructions - like we are trying to program them instead of teaching them how to program.

I hope I'm not alone in saying that half the fun of programming is that it is difficult. It is the challenge that makes it exciting or at least engaging. I remember a lecturer I had in first year at university who was trying to introduce us to assembly language programming. Her introduction started with reasons why you would want to use assembly language in the first place. Her final reason, which she revealed with a flourish, was "...because it's fun!". To be honest, at the time I thought she was a brick short of a full load but in retrospect, I understand exactly what she meant. It is worth noting that this is not a phenomenon that applies only to programming. Why do people do crosswords, or jigsaws, or sudoku, or play computer games, or sports, or...? If these activities were too easy, or lacked challenge, people wouldn't do them. You do sudoku because it is difficult. Crosswords are fun because you have to work to beat the crossword compiler.

The trick, and in my opinion, this is the really tricky bit when teaching programming, is to make it challenging without making it discouraging. Get the pupils involved and engaged in problems that are difficult but achievable and you are at least half-way there. I think this is (at least in part) the philosophy behind the Raspberry Pi. Give children something that will challenge but not overwhelm. Don't direct and control the children but let them explore and discover.

Will it work? That's a whole other question. Certainly, the launch today has generated a bucket-load of interest which has already led the Raspberry Pi site to put up a static page with basic information and the volume of traffic has caused at least one of the suppliers to struggle. BBC news has featured the launch (see Raspberry Pi - a rapturous reception for example), and Twitter is all in a flutter (see @Raspberry_Pi and #RaspberryPi - currently number three in the UK trending topics list) but I'm not sure yet if it is only of interest to the already converted. With me, the Raspberry Pi is pushing at an open door. The real test will be if the it reaches beyond the existing nerd herd and ropes in children who might otherwise have no interest in Computing.

I intend to try and acquire one and to that end, I'll be putting a bid in today to see if the university will buy me one to play with ...but if that fails I'll invest some of my own hard-earned.

So what do you think? Will Raspberry Pi create a new generation excited by, and interested in, computers and programming? And more importantly, did anyone I know manage to get one today?

4 comments:

Mosher said...

I managed to "pre-order" one. By which I mean that Farnell took my credit card details and will send me one out sometime within a month. Or 6 weeks. Or whenever they have stock, basically.

David said...

Apparently they sold all 10,000 units within minutes of opening the online sales channel!

dilon rain said...

The Raspberry Pi foundation is going with a licensed manufacturing setup with RS Components and Premier Farnell signing up to manufacture and distribute the boards. Right now it’s a strictly one-per-customer situation, but within a month or so you’ll be able to order as many as you would like.

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