I am quite interested in this week’s topic because I took an intro to programming course in my undergrad and because I have taught programming to Grade 11 students as a teacher candidate. Thus, this topic is familiar to me, but I was eager to read about the insights that the authors might provide.
To begin, the article titled “Cathedral of Computation” by Bogust was incredibly thought-provoking and brought to light an interesting consideration for algorithms and computers in our world. The basics of his argument is that computational systems (including algorithms) are treated theologically rather than scientifically or culturally, but, more importantly, the author states that this viewpoint causes people to chalk up computational social change as pre-determined and that there is nothing that they can do to change it. Additionally, the author says that this view also makes people forget that computational systems are abstractions and simply one perspective, not the be all-end all of perspectives. He boldly says that computers have turned into gods and their outputs are scripture. The article brings to light the dangers of how people are consuming these ideas (specifically digital and computational) without any pushback or consideration. As a jumping off point from this article and related to consumption, the rest of the texts this week spoke to how students need to be more than consumers of the digital world and society, but creators. The authors this week urge us to go beyond merely accepting what companies have put forward and to incorporate new literacies to challenge these ‘gods’.
“As I see it, code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world” (Rushkoff)
I thought that this bold statement was a good place to begin with this article by Rushkoff. Rushkoff’s argument is very similar to how others argue their reasons for a change in curriculum which is that students require additional skills than those that are currently being taught. Ruhskoff sets up his argument so that educators are seen as doing a disservice to students if they do not incorporate coding into education. Rushkoff argues that students are spending time in digital environments where rules have been written by others and that perhaps students should be more familiar with these environments so that they can understand the limitations, determine the limits of codes and technologies, and become familiar with the values of a digital society. Rushkoff explicitly reveals that students need coding and to become familiar with the digital world and society because “knowing something about programming makes us competitive as individuals, companies, and a nation”. All in all, Rushkoff advocates for coding to be a requirement in education and states that with current programs like Codeacademy’s after school program, there is simply no excuse to not incorporate it.
The video by Jennifer Jenson and the article titled “Exploring Media Literacy and Computational Thinking: Game Maker Curriculum Study” authored by herself and Droumeva discuss similar ideas, so I have opted to combine their central arguments. These two texts have similar threads to Rushkoff, especially in the sense that there is a call to action for education. However, the overall objective or main idea of this call to action from both texts is that education is ignoring an important component of what students require – computational thinking and literacy and game making. While the video explores definitions and the concepts of computational thinking and literacy, 21st century learning, and gamemaking, the article outlines the preliminary findings of study where game making was used in an Ontario Grade 6 classroom.
I would like to pull out some specific results from the study that Jenson and Droumeva completed. To begin, they discuss how students designed and coded their games with minimal facilitation and that their overall content knowledge of basic computational terminology and Game Maker knowledge significantly improved. This result reveals how teachers’ fears of not being able to teach coding is not always supported. What I mean by this is that I feel that some teachers fear teaching coding because they do not know a lot about it, but these results show that students are capable of teaching themselves, working with their peers, and utilizing resources in order to learn and understand coding. This does not mean that there isn’t any direct teaching involved, just that it is not as labour intensive as some teachers may think. To add to this point of the ‘labour’ involved, the study was completed in six 1.5 hour blocks plus an additional day of curricular programming at a university. Thus, in total students spent approximately 15 hours using Game Maker, of which 4-5 hours was direct teaching, again providing evidence that this type of instruction is not as labour intensive as some would like to believe.
The texts this week emphasize that there is a gap between what students are currently learning and what they should be learning. In a digital world and society with algorithms, computers, coding, and games, the authors this week make it clear that students should not merely be consumers of these ideas, but creators. Students should be immersed in the concepts with coding and game making, understanding their limitations and creation.
Critical Response and Take Away Points
After reflecting on my personal experiences in schooling as a student and teacher, I am in agreement with the articles when they suggest that there has been a focus on playing digital games rather than designing and developing them. But, reading the texts for this week gave me hope. I have often criticized that it is difficult to change the current education system because educators are not willing or not competent with these new ideas. However, these texts make it clear that things like coding, computational literacies, and game design are not impossible or as difficult as one might think to learn and teach. As previously mentioned, the time in the study was minimal and student were able to facilitate their own learning for game design. Additionally, the authors make it clear that concepts and instruction such as game making, coding, and computational literacies are absolutely necessary for students. Thus, instead of thinking of change as difficult, maybe I should shift my thinking towards the fact that this change is necessary and that educators need to advocate for these changes.
The most important take-away that I can give when I was learning programming and teaching it is that it’s all trial and error. Programming means that sometimes things are working and you don’t know why, but mostly things are NOT working and you have no idea why. It is a continual process of learning new things to make things work and continuing to build and rebuild your ideas. But, I can tell you that the best feeling is when you finally code something that works and you know why it works. This idea goes back to how important it is for students to be able to see the products of their work.
Programming is serious play. Game design is serious play. And computational literacy is a necessary component of both of these, but also extends beyond these and can apply to other subjects and aspects of education. All together though, these three components create an engaging and necessary environment for today’s students and I think instead of educators saying “that’s too hard to implement into schools”, we should shift to thinking and saying “these are skills that are necessary for students, how can we incorporate them into curriculum?”.
“Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it -- or simply because some company wants it that way” (Rushkoff)
“Science and technology have become so pervasive and distorted, they have turned into a new type of theology” (Bogost)
“Of treating computation theologically rather than scientifically or culturally. This attitude blinds us in two ways. First, it allows us to chalk up any kind of computational social change as pre-determined and inevitable. It gives us an excuse not to intervene in the social shifts wrought by big corporations like Google or Facebook or their kindred, to see their outcomes as beyond our influence. Second, it makes us forget that particular computational systems are abstractions, caricatures of the world, one perspective among many. The first error turns computers into gods, the second treats their outputs as scripture.” (Bogost)
“The context for this growing acknowledgement among educational researchers, computer scientists and teachers that ‘computational thinking’ and algorithmic logic ought to be considered a kind of ‘core literacy’ that needs to be incorporated into the school curriculum alongside numeracy, textual literacy and scientific thinking (Jenson & Droumeva, 2016, p. 112).