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Author's profile photo Matthew Young

Is It Worthwhile to Teach Students About APIs?

APIs (application programming interfaces) are one of the most vital components of the web. They allow for increased user-friendliness, and they help developers to integrate more features into their own sites. If you are using the internet, odds are you are actively using some sort of API, even if you are the most technologically unsavvy person out there.

Students will use APIs almost every time they log onto the web. Whether they are buying concert tickets on SeatGeek, or they are browsing for gifts on Amazon, there is some element of an API involved in what they are doing. But most students do not understand how the web works and the programming concepts that go into this. Educating students in this respect will not only allow them to get more out of what they do, but to potentially apply this concept themselves.

Web API theory does not need to just be applied on the web. Think about what is happening in the field of medicine right now. Treatments for stroke, for example, are now being developed further so that they can be of help to those with Alzheimer’s, and vice versa. Exercise, which was once just the realm of athletes and health nuts, can improve bone density, muscle mass, and balance in the elderly, protecting them from injury if they fall. Concepts in one area have transferability and can provide benefits to completely different populations. Who knows what kind of benefits APIs will bring as more people study them and learn how to best apply them in the future?

I don’t believe that teaching students about APIs would be worthwhile unless it’s something that will have a positive impact on their lives. Thanks to the fact that these are so firmly established within the web right now, and the fact that there’s very little chance that they will go away in the near future, APIs certainly have some usefulness within our technology curricula. The degree to which they should be taught is up for debate, and there is probably not much use in teaching all students how to integrate a professional level API into their own site. But being familiar with what an API is and how it enhances the user experience is only going to help students to be more proficient with their web use.

Even if a student never becomes a web developer, the concept of a universally understood digital form of communication has great benefits to our students. My background is in teaching English, and communication is the cornerstone of what languages provide. They do have other benefits (cultural identity, coded speech, and more), but languages are essentially a way for two people to communicate back and forth. APIs, although a digital form of communication, provides much of these same benefits, and is worth at least a brief study in schools if only for this reason. All of the other benefits that come along with them are just icing on the cake.

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