The Future of LiveCode in Education

stgoldberg at aol.com stgoldberg at aol.com
Mon Feb 29 16:33:02 CET 2016




What does LiveCode need to do to significantly increase its audience among teachers and students of computer programming?


I  taught medical students for 25 years at the University of Miami School of Medicine. LiveCode has provided an opportunity to further improve medical education.

My students, as well as others around the USA, have appreciated these efforts. I received the George Paff Award for Best Teacher 11 times at the University of Miami School of Medicine. I also received an unprecedented invitation to be the keynote speaker at the graduating class commencement of the Washington University at St. Louis School of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical schools in the US. The reason for the invite was for contributions to medical education, part of which included development of educational software.

I am president of the Medmaster medical publishing company and have used LiveCode to create and distribute many educational programs, some of which are available free for download at www.medmaster.net/freedownloads.html, while others of a more complex nature are incorporated into Medmaster books (I provide links below for the LiveCode readers of this forum):

Atlas of Microbiology (free).  I created this LiveCode program to accompany Medmaster’s book, Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple, which is the best-selling microbiology book in the US. It links to the internet for pictures and descriptions of all microbial organisms and diseases.

Atlas of Human Diseases (free).  This LiveCode program encompasses over 10,000 known diseases in the world, with links to pictures and text on the Internet. It may well be the largest atlas of its kind, the equivalent of many thousands of printed pages, encompassing the vast array human diseases, hereditary and non-hereditary. It took only a few days of programming using LiveCode once the disease list was put together.

Neurologic Localization. This LiveCode program accompanies my book Clinical Neuroanatomy Made Ridiculously, which for many years has been a best-seller in the field. It provides the student with a thorough approach to the anatomy of the nervous system and localization of neurologic diseases, along with a complete lab course and quiz in neurologic localization.

Heart Sounds & Images is a LiveCode program that accompanies Medmaster’s book Clinical Cardiology Made Ridiculously Simple, which is presently the best-selling Cardiology book in the US. It provides a tutorial of many hundreds of examples of electrocardiograms, x-rays, angiograms, echocardiograms, and heart sounds.

Other LiveCode programs I have written include:
Differential Diagnosis (for Clinical Pathophysiology MRS)
Atlas of Dermatology
Atlas of Pathology (for Pathology MRS)
Atlas of Normal Radiology (for Clinical Anatomy MRS)
Atlas of Clinical Radiology (for Clinical Radiology MRS)
MedSearcher (search engines in medicine)
USMLE Step 1, Step 2, and NCLEX-RN Question Banks

Everyone has their own forte. I am not an IT person, but rather a teacher. My own strength is in understanding how to teach students learning a subject for the first time, which is Medmaster’s mission and the reason for its success through the years. Medical (and other) students are overwhelmed by the information explosion, a problem that permeates education at every level. Medmaster has dealt with the problem with books that are brief, clinically relevant, and interesting. Most medical students in the US are familiar with the Medmaster “Made Ridiculously Simple” series, of which LiveCode is a part.

Given the extraordinary power of LiveCode, it seems strange that so few people know about it, even after it has been around for many years. I went into my local Apple store a short time ago and the people behind the genius bar had not heard of it. Why not? Why aren’t many more programmers and teachers using it, like they did when Apple’s HyperCard first came out? The word-of-mouth is not great. I think there are two main reasons. LiveCode needs better documentation and freedom from bugs:

1. Documentation. The HyperCard language had only about 150 words. LiveCode has over 2000. It can be difficult for a programming newcomer to get started learning LiveCode for lack of a basic “Getting Started” book. You find all kinds of programming books in bookstores, but few if any about LiveCode basics. One can’t just tell a potential user to open and study the massive, however excellent, LiveCode dictionary. It’s too overwhelming. Nor is it adequate to post non-linear lessons online that have multiple links. It is too easy to get lost in them. The teacher and student need a small, clear, practical linear book that focuses on the basics of LiveCode’s interface and scripting. The LiveCode company wants to attract more new users. It has been relatively easy for the old guard who grew up with HyperCard to switch to LiveCode, which has a similar scripting language, but it is more difficult for students and teachers who have not had this advantage. They need better documentation at a basic level.

2. Bugs. While it is important to continue to extend LiveCode’s potential into new realms, including mobile programming, the resolution of bugs in the system does not appear to have kept pace with new developments in the LiveCode language and interface. There is a confusing simultaneous development of LC 6,7, and 8 along separate tracks. A new user wants a single bug-free version. I still use LC 5.5.3, which I have found quite stable and used for all the above programs.

I have tried to do my part in creating a “Getting Started” Manual by writing “LiveCode Lite: Computer Programming Made Ridiculously Simple.” It focuses on the key principles of the LiveCode interface and scripting, with examples of some 150 key words in the LiveCode language and how to use them, enough to create a great variety of programs. The book, available as a free PDF download, is accompanied by a downloadable tutorial for Macintosh and Windows, showing examples of how these basic words are used. Such general principles are important to learn first before entering more advanced realms, including mobile programming. The book should be useful to teachers who want to create educational programs, as well as to students who want to learn the basics of computer programming.

The book does not cover mobile programming. I am not experienced in that. What would be helpful, though, is an extension of the book that explains:

1. Which key scripting words are new to mobile programming?
2. Which key classic scripting words cannot be used in mobile programming, but are more specific to development on Windows and Macintosh?

I have read every LiveCode (and Revolution) manual and book, but I have not seen one that discusses the latter two questions as topics in themselves. As a result, even programmers who are already familiar with LiveCode for Windows and Macintosh may have difficulty extending their abilities into the mobile realm. It is insufficient to just refer readers to the LiveCode dictionary for mobile words. There is too much there, and the focus needs to be on the basics.

In 36 years of publishing, I find that the main factor in a book’s popularity is word-of-mouth rather than advertising. I think the same is true of computer programs, including LiveCode. More so than advertising, what is key is positive word-of-mouth about the program itself, along with good documentation and the quality of being bug-free.

At this point in my life (I am 73) I am not interested in making a profit on LiveCode Lite, but simply offer it as a contribution to the field in gratitude for a program that has made a difference and has great potential.  If any programmers, or LiveCode Ltd, are interested in extending this book into the mobile realm, or modify the book further, I would be happy to donate the book and help in any way I can. The legwork for the basics has already been done. A more complete book could be presented as a standard bookstore title used by teachers and students. As an aside, being president of Medmaster, I have a relationship with the major scientific bookstores and distributors. Medmaster could publish the book and insure that it is incorporated by Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other distributors. 

Stephen Goldberg, MD
Professor Emeritus, Univ of Miami Miller School of Medicine
President, Medmaster Inc.
www.medmaster.net







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