Re: Unicode in the Curriculum?

From: Asmus Freytag (t) <>
Date: Fri, 1 Jan 2016 12:09:13 -0800
On 1/1/2016 6:00 AM, Andre Schappo wrote:

We have very different POVs on this topic. You raise a number of issues which would take me many many thousands of words to properly discuss. I will attempt a summary discussion of some of the issues.

① IT i18n is a huge subject area. Unicode is only one component. My module included: s/w i18n & L10n, character sets, unicode & unicode encodings, fonts, keyboard mappings, input methods, language tags, IDNs, website i18n, adaptive i18n websites, characteristics of human language scripts. One of my problems when putting the module together was deciding what to leave out. Actually every year I have tended to add a bit more teaching material to the module. It was along the lines — Oh! I cannot leave that out 😄  Much of IT i18n has a WOW factor. I have many times seen the WOW!/I didn't know that!/Really! reactions from students when teaching them about IT i18n
② There is also the cultural aspect which adds an extra richness, depth and interest to IT i18n
That attracts some people, but others may feel that this is too much a "humanities" topic and something that they elected to get away from by going into a STEM curriculum.
③ IT i18n has many layers of detail. Each layer has concepts and realisations. Using your terminology, each layer has intellectual content

Text, for example, is endlessly complex - on all sorts of levels, and fully modeling that complexity is technically both challenging and frustrating. To a purist, the fact that not everything can be reduced to a single compact algorithm may be frustrating and it may feel that much is an isolated collection of facts.

④ Technical skills encompass and embody concepts and realisations. A technical skill is not adaptable/flexible unless one understands the concepts and has had the realisations. Computer Science needs to give students such technical skills so that they will be able to function and contribute in the non academic world.

Some schools (or departments within) manage to include that in their vision. But they are too few.

⑤ In my experience, just telling students to read the manuals does not work. Most need to be guided to the realisations and concepts. Many 1st year students have been programming from an early age, like 9/10 years old, and are gifted programmers. They have encountered unicode and hacked solutions to immediate problems. But, they do not have an understanding of Unicode and there are many layers to understand in unicode. 

Unicode aims to be expressive enough to model all plain text. That means, it inherits the non-reducible complexity of text. Even the insight that the complexity is non-reducible would be a big step forward.
⑥ My primary aim/goal/passion is to teach/encourage students to code for the World and not just Britain.

That works for some.

⑦ The current situation is that the majority of students (actually, and academic staff) do not even think about i18n of their Apps/Systems/Websites.
 eg I will say to a Final Year Project student: "have you thought about internationalising your s/w". Time and time again the response is, No.

Not surprisingly, because they do not program for anyone but themselves or their academic peers.

⑧ There is a lot of ongoing development of i18n features in css, html, programming languages, social media. All these developments need to be studied and taught

The group of people developing these is very small, the group of people that is supposed to be able to use these features is much larger. How to model text and present information acquires an element of design, a design that isn't purely "graphical" as design is often misunderstood. Seems like much of these features therefore fall into a crack between disciplines.

⑨ Surely one of the purposes of lecturing is to make the complicated, simpler. When I first started (self)studying Unicode I was completely baffled. I was overwhelmed with a mass of data, concepts, techniques, reports, standards. I just kept reading and thinking and experimenting. I read about Unicode from many different points of view. I wrote code to process unicode text. That took a lot of effort and time. Now I consider myself knowledgeable about unicode and am in a position to make unicode simpler for students. A 1 hour lecture from me on Unicode will save a student days of self study. Students have a very heavy workload and do not have time for unguided and unstructured self study.

Yes, that's one aspect, but the other one is to remove mental limitations - like, in this case, the idea that there is a 'shortcut' somewhere. There isn't. Human communication is complex; text inherits that complexity; so does any program that communicates or models text. And that complexity is non-reducible.

That's not the message that most people would like to hear. Some are happy to delve into the complexities, and those are often the ones that find learning about the connection to culture the most interesting and satisfying. Those are the ones we need to reach.


All for now😄

André Schappo

On 31 Dec 2015, at 18:58, Julian Bradfield wrote:

On 2015-12-31, Andre Schappo <> wrote:

I have been hitting my head against the Academic Brick Wall for
years WRT getting IT i18n and Unicode on the curriculum and I am
losing. I did teach a final year elective module on IT i18n but a
few months ago my University dropped it. I am continually puzzled by
the lack of interest University Computer Science departments have in
i18n. I appear to be a solitary UK University Computer Science voice
when it comes to i18n. 
Well, I'd say that it's not the business of Computer Science degrees
to teach specific technical skills. It's our business to help people
learn about the fundamentals of the subject, so that they can acquire
any specific skill on demand, and use that skill competently. In those
areas where we do teach specific skills (e.g. machine learning
techniques) we teach those that have some intellectual content to
them.  (This is why we don't teach programming languages as such - we
teach a programming language as a means of learning a programming

In my experience so far, using Unicode and doing i18n is not very
interesting (killingly boring, actually) from a purely CS technical
point of view, unless you happen to be one of the small minority who
enjoys script and font layout issues - the interesting bits of doing
i18n are in producing linguistically and culturally appropriate
messages, and that's where one should bring in experts, not expect
typical software developers to be able to do it.

If you still have the materials for your course, it would be
interesting to see how you managed to get an interesting (and
examinable!) course out of i18n.

I do in fact mention Unicode and i18n in my introductory programming
course (which is not for CS students), but all I say is "you should
know it's there, and if you become a competent programmer, then you
can read the manuals and tutorials to learn what you need".

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Received on Fri Jan 01 2016 - 14:10:26 CST

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