Week 6 [Mon Feb 13 ] Coding Literacies: Critical Literacies for an Algorithmic Culture

Ted Striphus The Cathedral of Computation: Living in an Algorithmic Culture

This week’s readings question and examine why we’re not teaching students how to code and program, instead of being programmed themselves. Ted Striphus’s article titled, “The Cathedral of Computation: Living in an Algorithmic Culture” discusses the fact that science and technology have turned into a new type of “theology”. He mentions that when the mechanical clock was invented, “people began thinking of their brains as operating ‘like clockwork’”, instead of something that came from their innovation. Striphus states that currently, with out technological innovation, we have started to think of our minds as  operating “like computers”, rather than technology operating like our brains. Relating this to last week’s readings and the idea that students are “programmed” in school rather than being taught how to program, I question: are we allowing computers to program us on a larger scale rather than it being us who program computers?

Something about that idea sounds almost sinister to me — that we have the potential to be subliminally or very openly programmed in a particular way. Isn’t this what media essentially is? Especially hateful, anti-muslim media rhetoric like CNN or Fox News, and their menacingly inaccurate portrayals of Islam. I directly connect this question and idea to last week’s discussion on the importance of having our students programming computers instead of being programmed by them, so that they may engage critically and meaningfully with real world problems through not being afraid to “get it” [problem solving] right the first time. Striphus’s discussion highlights the importance of understanding how coding and algorithms work so that students do not remain “innocent lambs” waiting to be led wherever the shepherd [programmers, media and the groups that put money behind that programming] pleases.

Rushkoff’s  Code Literacy: A 21st-Century Requirement. (2012)

Rushkoff, in his article, “Code Literacy: A 21st-Century Requirement”, mentions that companies like Facebook are far more than just a social networking site — that individuals programming Facebook aren’t “sitting around wondering how to foster more enduring relationships for little Johnny…but rather how to monetize their social graphs”. Social networking sites like Facebook accumulate personal data about each of their users and use algorithms and coding to control what that person sees and gear advertising on their home page. This makes me think about all the other companies Facebook buys, like Instagram, Oculus VR, WhatsApp, etc, and what it gains from those companies. I wonder about some of the dangers and issues (and positive outcomes) of companies like Facebook engulfing other smaller companies and making their technology their own. When Facebook bought Instagram, I remember something about many people being concerned that the pictures they put up on Instagram were no longer theirs and that Facebook had the right to do with them as they pleased, which was a reason some of my friends deleted Instagram. I connect this with the idea of leaving a digital footprint on the internet, and how intelligent it is to do that — while adapting to and keeping up with 21st century learning and coding literacies and pedagogies.

As Rushkoff mentions, code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world. He states, “when we acquired language, we didn’t just learn how to listen, but also how to speak. When we acquired text, we didn’t just learn how to read, but also how to write. Now that we have computers, we are learning to use them but not how to program them. When we are not code literate, we must accept the devices and software we use with whatever limitations and agendas their creators have built into them.” This is perhaps why it is incredibly important for our students to become code literate, so that they can stop settling for limitations and accepting programs at face value, instead of engaging critically and purposefully with the material instead.

One of Codecademy’s key insights being that “programming is best taught by doing”, connects very well with the concept of deeper learning, and that it is only through “doing” that we really learn something to the extent of being able to apply it effectively and critically. The article further discusses the importance of tying coding and programming to a real project, as it is crucial to engage with something that is personally meaningful for it to allow deeper learning.

Jenson, J. & Droumeva, M. (2016). Exploring Media Literacy and Computational Thinking: A Game Maker Curriculum Study

Jenson and Droumeva question: “(what) can children learn from constructing games?” This suggests that yes, we’ve established that there is great merit in having children code and program, rather than be programmed, and so now what? What sorts of things do children learn? From my understanding, the article does a good job highlighting how programming can increase student confidence and building capacity for deeper learning and engagement with STEM subjects.

Jenson and Droumeva state that the idea that all students are “digitally native” is not true,  and sometimes students don’t even have a familiarity with basic computer programming. and competencies. Perhaps this ties in with socioeconomic backgrounds and demographics and a lack of access to technology.


Jennifer Jenson: Learning through Game Design

Jenson’s thoughts on teaching kids how to use software to write, but not how to write software compounds the idea that if we want students to grow up and becoming members of society who care about what’s happening with their world (i.e. Trump), then we must give them the power to determine the “value creating capabilities” of the technology and resources around them. Jenson also goes on to state, “the illiterate of the 21C will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, & relearn”, and I agree with this notion. In a world that is constantly changing and evolving in terms of technological enhances, resources and global issues (such as global warming, wars, Trump), students must be willing and have the capacity to learn, unlearn and relearn ideas to constantly better and build upon their critical thinking skills.


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