Education value of Raspberry Pi?

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15 posts
by K.Kong » Sat Oct 27, 2012 1:37 pm
I was thrilled when I programmed the LEDs to run across from right to left. It was not on a Pi, but on this device:

Image

I coded in 6502 assembler, and the program was lost the moment power was switched off. (More about the above computer here.) I was fortunate enough to be doing this under the direct tutelage of one Dr Andy Hopper. I learned huge. And everything I learned subsequently was built upon what I learned then.

But after booting up the Raspberry Pi for the first time today and demonstrating it to my teenage daughter, I have doubts about the Pi's effectiveness as a teaching tool.

Today, there is no shortage nor restrictions of access to learning IT and programming. If your school bans the free Visual Studio 2012 Express and the .NET Framework simply because they are from Microsoft, then Ubuntu in VirtualBox would still be a far more efficient education tool than the Pi.

The Pi is an extremely valuable device if you are an advanced hacker with an embedded application that needs a credit card-size full-blown computing environment. The majority of the threads in these forums are from such people.

I don't want to sound negative or disappoint the hardworking people who made the Pi possible, but I am not sure the goals of the RP foundation can be fulfilled via this device. The enemies of today's youth are things like Playstation and Facebook, not accessibility to great programming learning platforms.
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by toxibunny » Sat Oct 27, 2012 2:07 pm
PlayStation and Facebook don't subtract from the raspi though. It'd be pretty much the same whether or not they existed..
note: I may or may not know what I'm talking about...
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by toxibunny » Sat Oct 27, 2012 2:14 pm
I'm not an advanced hacker either, but it's good that there are such people here, for the return of us to get hints and tips from. Don't stress! :)
note: I may or may not know what I'm talking about...
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by bgirardot » Sat Oct 27, 2012 2:50 pm
You are assuming the people learning have access to a computer to run one of your suggested alternatives, many do not. And that they have access to the electricity to run one of your suggested alternatives, the RPi is very good in low resource environments.

Also, you are assuming that people who are learning only want to learn programming, but this device is in use across a variety of learning topics like robotics which is very popular with people under 18.

And then there are the adults like me who are learning to do things with computers a traditional desktop just isn't the best match for like applications that require the I2C and SPI buses or remote and austere applications.

Anyway, it is certainly not a perfect match for a lot of people, but at the same time, it is a great match for a wide variety of folks.
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by MattHawkinsUK » Sat Oct 27, 2012 3:01 pm
The big advantage of the Pi over alternative approaches (Visual Studio, VirtualBox etc) is that you can easily interface with the real world. To light an LED using programming you've got two options :

£30 Pi
£1 of components

or

£300 PC (£3000 if you are a school who doesn't read contracts)
£1 of components
£50+ for some sort of interface system that lets you attach something to a PC.
+ possible licence costs

The Pi means that kids can own their own "development system". They can mirror activities done in school using the same hardware.They can light LEDs or create robots. They can re-build the SD card in 2 minutes. How long does it take to rebuild a PC? There is also an advantage in the hardware being the same.

You can learn pure programming on a PC ... but you can't have real fun with the family PC. Real inventing involves making mistakes and the Pi is perfect for making mistakes without impacting the household computers. I want my son to have this sort of freedom but I don't want him to trash my PC in the process. If he fries a Pi in the name of science I can be a bit more sympathetic!

I think this sums up why I've got a Pi on my desk with some LEDs despite also owning a few PCs. I love my desktop PCs. They are great for all sorts of weird and wonderful tasks but for software and hardware inventing the Pi is a winner.
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by vinntec » Sat Oct 27, 2012 3:34 pm
I am a teacher starting up a computer club with RPIs. We could, it is true, do programming in Python (or Pascal) on the existing Windows platform (and probably will do anyway to show how portable the programs are). What we can't do in a school environment is to allow the students to administer the PCs - but they can do more or less whatever they want with their personal SD card on an RPI. If they make a mess of it, I just pull out their SD card and put a spare one in (restore work from a backup if possible) then away they go again.

The one problem is the cost of the HDMI monitor. The cost of converting to VGA on a powered adapter is as much as using a cheap HDMI TV (around £90 last time I looked - monitors cost more and don't tend to allow sound on the HDMI cable). The way I have got around this is to run the whole lot headless - no monitor, mouse, or keyboard and access them from Windows computers using SSH (dumb access) and VNC (xwindows access) and run them remotely after a minor pre-build to set IP addresses etc. Then we only need a single maintenance station to connect up an RPi which won't talk on the network. The club will initially have 10 RPIs so that's around £900 saved straight away - which means we can order all the bits we don't have for about £500 - which would support a club of up to 20 members (sharing) plus a teacher. If I have two many members, I can split across two sessions by getting some more SD cards made up. We won't easily be able to get any sound this way, which is a disadvantage but the alternative was just too expensive (and would take ages to set up and take down).

Physically I only need to buy 10 x RPI + 10 x power supplies + 10 x Ethernet cables + 16 x SD cards - the tech has a spare switch to connect them into and I have my TV + keyboard + mouse for emergency maintenance. The software is free.

What is the point? Programming (Python + Pygame), Linux system maintenance (which is also useful for our BTEC students who need to work with two platforms), networking fundamentals, why does it have LEDs flashing on it. This is just touching the surface. We could do some Assembler programming if we wanted to or add an IO interface board or connect a robot arm (I have one downstairs waiting to be played with). The same computers with different SD cards can also be used in GCSE Computer Science and A Level Computing courses, not just for the club originally envisaged. The kids who enjoy figuring these sorts of things out are the ones who will do well with these.

I need to do some more tests before the classroom RPIs arrive, but if setting up does not take too long I could even hand them over as raw Raspian and only pre-customisation is to set a static IP address so they can connect SSL and/or VNC to get started (current plan is to have a working system)! If they are excited about configuring the system themselves (even though it will take time and lots of messages) then they probably have the "right stuff". If I see something interesting on one of these forums then I can tell them about it and see if anyone wants to give it a go.

Peter
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by michele.x » Sat Oct 27, 2012 4:05 pm
MattHawkinsUK wrote:The big advantage of the Pi over alternative approaches (Visual Studio, VirtualBox etc) is that you can easily interface with the real world. To light an LED using programming you've got two options :

£30 Pi
£1 of components

or

£300 PC (£3000 if you are a school who doesn't read contracts)
£1 of components
£50+ for some sort of interface system that lets you attach something to a PC.
+ possible licence costs


Let's play the devil advocate.
One could search for an old IBM PC or compatible computer with a parallel port, with MS DOS. Maybe the old Pentium 200 left in the cellar will suffice.
The old, but always present on DOS disks, GWBASIC and DEBUG could be used to make nice tricks on the parallel port. Of course in Windows and Linux are available more advanced systems to control the i/o lines on the ppdev.

About crashing the PC. My first PC was an XT compatible. Was a simple system, that one could rebuild, except the case the crash was an head crash, and anywat the head crash was a valuable
experience.
Anyway the motivation on using the RPi as a teaching tool, is because is a simple system with a clearly defined hardware, if compared with a full blown PC like the iMac. Is order of magnitude more complex than a Sinclair QL or even a XT clone anyways, but unfortunately a too simple system risks to be rejected as too dull.
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by brs » Sat Oct 27, 2012 7:16 pm
On of the a advantages to the Raspberry Pi is that it's immediate and physical. You can see it, touch it, plug in and pull stuff out or connect it to other physical things quite easily and write simple programs which affect something in the physical world.

Yes, it would probably be much easier to learn some programming or maybe even Linux system administration on some cloud hosted virtual machine, but that might just be too abstract and anti-climactic for a generation who has grown up with sophisticated computer applications all around them.
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by toxibunny » Sat Oct 27, 2012 8:56 pm
michele.x wrote:
MattHawkinsUK wrote:The big advantage of the Pi over alternative approaches (Visual Studio, VirtualBox etc) is that you can easily interface with the real world. To light an LED using programming you've got two options :

£30 Pi
£1 of components

or

£300 PC (£3000 if you are a school who doesn't read contracts)
£1 of components
£50+ for some sort of interface system that lets you attach something to a PC.
+ possible licence costs


Let's play the devil advocate.
One could search for an old IBM PC or compatible computer with a parallel port, with MS DOS. Maybe the old Pentium 200 left in the cellar will suffice.
The old, but always present on DOS disks, GWBASIC and DEBUG could be used to make nice tricks on the parallel port. Of course in Windows and Linux are available more advanced systems to control the i/o lines on the ppdev.

About crashing the PC. My first PC was an XT compatible. Was a simple system, that one could rebuild, except the case the crash was an head crash, and anywat the head crash was a valuable
experience.
Anyway the motivation on using the RPi as a teaching tool, is because is a simple system with a clearly defined hardware, if compared with a full blown PC like the iMac. Is order of magnitude more complex than a Sinclair QL or even a XT clone anyways, but unfortunately a too simple system risks to be rejected as too dull.


I know you're just playing devil's advocate, but trying to learn on that crusty old P200 doesn't sound appealing at all. Ew!
note: I may or may not know what I'm talking about...
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by K.Kong » Sun Oct 28, 2012 12:28 pm
Thank you for all your responses. All of you are wonderful beneficiaries of the Raspberry Pi. But none of you, including teacher Peter vintec, appear to be the target audience of the Raspberry Pi Foundation as explained at http://www.raspberrypi.org/about.

Regarding some of the points brought forth:

a. It is incorrect to to say that the standard PC is not immediate or physical. In fact, the SoC Pi is more abstracted than the usual PC. It is more difficult to learn about how a computer works from the Pi.

b. It is not about cost or the lack of electricity in developing countries. See the Foundation's goals. To make the Pi a working computer need an additional investment at least five times the cost of the Pi, if you don't already have a PC. If you have a PC, you don't need a Pi, for learning. Without a good Internet connection, the Pi cannot be used.

c. It is not correct to say that you can't interface to external hardware easily with a PC. A PC is a computer, the Pi is a computer, and the PC has been around much longer and there are more interfacing options, and as cheap if not cheaper.

d. There is no issue with giving students full administrative control of a virtual machine. Students can freely re-image a virtual machine as often as they like without affecting the host PC. Almost a decade ago, I was in a Microsoft class on AD and Exchange. Each of the training PCs ran five Virtual Servers simulating the DCs and different Exchange Servers. Students are welcome to rip apart the VMs. At the end of the day, with one click, the trainer restored all the VMs to their original start state for the next day's class. That was in 2003.

Many people have wonderful ideas and uses for the Pi, will benefit immensely from it, and are buying it and creating shortages. But it appears that most of these people are not the intended audience.
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by bgirardot » Sun Oct 28, 2012 1:18 pm
Do you have a useful point k. kong or do you just like to criticize? Most of the posts I see from you are just pointless criticisms or pot stirring.

It would be nice if you did not waste everyone's time. There are people here actually putting in effort to help other folks and it kills me to see them wasting their time responding to someone who is out for nothing but..... I don't even know what you are setting out to do with your posts.
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by MattHawkinsUK » Sun Oct 28, 2012 1:23 pm
But none of you, including teacher Peter vintec, appear to be the target audience of the Raspberry Pi Foundation

True, but that is to be expected. In fact it was planned this way. The geeks stretch and test the Pi and generate a pool of knowledge/arguments/blogs/videos etc so the educators can pick over the pieces in the second wave. The second wave is just starting. Hopefully :-)

a. It is incorrect to to say that the standard PC is not immediate or physical. In fact, the SoC Pi is more abstracted than the usual PC. It is more difficult to learn about how a computer works from the Pi.

A PC is a black box. You can see the Pi and its components. Most parents/schools do not want their kids dismantling the family PC. In many cases it would be dangerous to let them try.

b. It is not about cost or the lack of electricity in developing countries. See the Foundation's goals. To make the Pi a working computer need an additional investment at least five times the cost of the Pi, if you don't already have a PC. If you have a PC, you don't need a Pi, for learning. Without a good Internet connection, the Pi cannot be used.

HDMI monitors are only £80. I saw one in Tescos and that was without even looking for one. You can learn on a PC but you can't power it from AA batteries and strap it to a motorised platform. That is a huge learning benefit. No one is going to let a child drag the family PC into the shed to create a weather monitor. The Pi can be used without the internet. Once you've got the image you can write to an SD card and boot the Pi. No internet required.

c. It is not correct to say that you can't interface to external hardware easily with a PC. A PC is a computer, the Pi is a computer, and the PC has been around much longer and there are more interfacing options, and as cheap if not cheaper.

You've got a Pi, a PC, an LED and a resistor. You've got 2 minutes to make the LED blink. What do you choose? Even if you've got a parallel port you can't use it with Windows. The Pi is so much easier to interface to with almost no additional equipment. I'm not aware of any cheap ways of interfacing LEDs, buzzers and motors to a PC.

A school can not kit out a computer lab with second hand obsolete PCs running unlicensed copies of DOS. They need off-the-shelf equipment.

d. There is no issue with giving students full administrative control of a virtual machine. Students can freely re-image a virtual machine as often as they like without affecting the host PC. Almost a decade ago, I was in a Microsoft class on AD and Exchange. Each of the training PCs ran five Virtual Servers simulating the DCs and different Exchange Servers. Students are welcome to rip apart the VMs. At the end of the day, with one click, the trainer restored all the VMs to their original start state for the next day's class. That was in 2003.

I guarantee that training environment cost plenty of money and a huge amount of expertise to setup and maintain. Not to mention physical space. Much more complicated than writing the Raspbian image to an SD card. Not easy to set up in the school hall for an after-school Pi club! A training environment is also something that students can't replicate at home. It is also very desk bound and therefore boring. A Pi is more portable.
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by bgirardot » Sun Oct 28, 2012 1:35 pm
I really wouldn't waste anymore time with this guy, he just seems to want to argue to no particular end.
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by Angelnet » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:57 pm
Mr K.Kong,

The purpose of the Foundation is to get the next generation of kids interested into Computer Science and Programming. Its obvious that the majority of projects, videos and education topics online have been created by an older group that love to play with hardware. The foundation never expected that this device will be in such great demand for such hardware project but if you do some research, you will find how this little device is changing the School system in teaching Computer Science to kids.
As a parent, how did you approach you daughter with the Pi? did you just handed over and expected her to start learning on her own? If that's the case, then you failed to give it resourceful meaning to the Pi. It seems that you don't have an understanding to this generation culture. Don't expect for kids to become experts overnight no matter what tool is provided. It doesn't matter what item you provided to your child, if you fail to learn to teach, your child will also fail. Parents are the driving force to a child success in their lives. While you wonder the lack usefulness of one item, the are millions more that are taking advance of it and exceed while your child will not. Remember, you can't force a child to be interested in something they are not, unless it's part of your culture.
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by teknoteacher » Tue Dec 11, 2012 11:53 pm
This is a thought provoking discussion, one that should contribute to our Raspberry Jamboree on March 9th 2013.

I believe we need to help people to see the Raspberry Pi for what it is, not what it isn't.

I invite you to contribute to our Jamboree and extend the discussion at https://raspberryjamboree.eventbrite.com/?nomo=1
Alan O'Donohoe @teknoteacher http://about.me/AlanODonohoe
RaspberryJam http://raspberryjam.org.uk/ TeachComputing http://teachcomputing.wordpress.com/
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