CAD vs. programming...what should we teach?

Many of us have limited resources to teach technology courses, both in terms of available staff and computing facilities. We've taught a course in CAD (Computer Aided Design/Drawing/Drafting) for some time and it has always been popular with students.

Many of us have limited resources to teach technology courses, both in terms of available staff and computing facilities. We've taught a course in CAD (Computer Aided Design/Drawing/Drafting) for some time and it has always been popular with students. The instructor has extensive experience in engineering and architecture and does a great job with the course. I have to wonder, though, as a geek who also has to pay the bills, if CAD is the best use of scarce resources.

To actually teach AutoCAD (really a gold standard in education and industry), licensing costs are considerable. The AutoDesk Design Academy is a massive suite of software that provides a lot tools for students and instructors and is, quite frankly, worth the cost. Yet long-term, what would benefit kids more? A class on CAD and related design software or a class on programming? Most modern languages and certainly robust programming techniques can be taught with free IDEs. Solid programmatic thinking and an understanding of syntax and logic based on just about any language will help students hitting everything from MatLab or SAS to web design and a variety of computer science fields. No doubt budding engineers could also benefit from programming experience in high school.

So should we bother with CAD? If so, should it be at the expense of other technology education, particularly programming? For those few who have the resources to do both, it seems like a no-brainer. They both have applicability and we should do everything we can to prepare a broad cross-section of students for college and skilled labor. If it comes down to choosing between the two, though, I'm having trouble rationalizing teaching CAD instead of programming skills.

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