Themes, Issues, and Benefits of the Learning To Code Movement

With "Hour Of Code" on the horizon, what social, economic & historical issues should we keep in mind when it comes to the growing "learning to code" movement?

About The Speaker(s)

  • Chris Lawrence - Senior Director of Webmaker Mentor Community at Mozilla
  • Doug Belshaw - Project lead for the Web Literacy Standard at the Mozilla Foundation
  • Mitch Resnick - LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and head of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab
  • Ciara Byrne - Technology journalist, currently writing for www.fastcolabs.com
  • Joe Dillon - Education Technology Coordinator - Aurora Public Schools, and part of the Denver Writing Project
  • Alec Heifetz - Computer Science major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Mia Zamora - Associate Professor of English, Director of the Kean University Writing Project

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Key Questions and Comments

  • (08:14) What do we mean when we say "code"? What I've witnessed is that when people say "code," they mean a pretty wide-ranging amount of stuff...
  • (10:00) "Coding" means the ability to read and write machine language in the same way we read, write and speak a human language. But, also, "coding" means...thinking computationally--it's more than just the actual procedural thing...there's a whole thought process.
  • (10:42) I think that, too often, when people learn to code, they learn the syntax of coding rather than the thinking behind it.
  • (12:22) We like to say it's not just "learning to code," but "coding to learn." The goal should be...organizing your thinking in new ways, to be able to debug things, to be able to design something from an initial idea to a finished product...Those types of skills are useful, even if you're not going to be employed as a programmer.
  • (15:21) Writing is something I'd like to introduce here in terms of thinking about coding. We know how to read and write, but it's only in the writing process that we come to read more effectively. So, I think there's a kind of loopback process.
  • (18:20) I wonder if we're talking about a pro-amateur distinction here? As coding/programming becomes demystified...is there some tension & conflict between the professional layer and amateurs or 'tinkerers'?
  • (22:15) I think we want to invite kids into a literate world and know that they have agency in that world...Similarly with coding...I would be hesitant to say 'Kids don't need to see how that works and kids don't need to be invited to compose in those environments.'
  • (24:40) Are we overreacting to the meme or fad nature of "learn to code"? Is there a chance for a backlash against that to have a deep impact on a dynamic, educational push around efficacy & advocacy of young people (and adults) in a digital world?
  • (26:00) I wonder if part of the reason behind this huge meme of learning to code is because of startup culture and it being seen as a get-rich-quick scheme?
  • (27:08) We need to take a critical lens at who is fluent in computer science: typically it's men, and women are underrepresented, and blacks in America are really underrepresented. So, I worry about looking at a field like that that is so homogeneous and saying 'That field's just fine. And the people who don't have those sets of skills don't need them.'
  • (29:01) I was just looking at some of the tutorials on the Hour Of Code website and a lot of them are based around puzzle solving...some people get really attracted to that, others don't. If we only allow people to have a pathway in by solving puzzles, we are going to restrict it and make it unappealing for a large part of the population.
  • (32:40) If we talk about ways in which we can engage different cultures and minorities and we think about the ways in which coding might be important to them, then it can be emancipatory. It's not all about creating the next Facebook, but it is about having a skill set which is (presumably) going to be necessary to be able to compete & flourish in 10-20 years' time in the job market.
  • (33:34) I wonder if we're getting it backwards? That we're highlighting the hammer instead of how to build a house?
  • (38:07) It's not the sense that you need to know, from scratch, how to write an amazingly complex webpage. It's about when you right-click and you 'View Source,' you're not completely scared by what you see.
  • (42:55) The majority of people are not going to create their own stuff...Teaching people about how common software works (what the biases of search algorithms are, how a recommendation engine works and how it's pushing you to behave, etc.) can be more useful to the vast majority of people than the basics of coding.
  • (44:51) I think that furthering a literacy in a new area will always open up possibilities for the way someone thinks, produces, and makes & meets the world...The coding movement isn't something we need to become frustrated by--I think it's a positive moment that pushes forth a digital confidence in the next generation.
  • (50:04) Recognizing that the Hour Of Code is happening next week where kids are getting one-hour introductions to coding & computer science, what advice do you have for making sure that learning doesn't end after one hour?
  • (50:42) In the hour-long experience, what I think is most important is for the learners to get a sense of what the possibilities are and to connect with some of their interests. It shouldn't just be about learning some specific techniques.
  • (53:18) In terms of making an Hour Of Code effective, it needs to not be disconnected from people's lived experiences...that kind of emotional and personal connection is really important.

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