Welcome to Code Acts in Education

By Ben Williamson

The Code Acts in Education seminar series aims to explore important questions about how computer code interacts with education. Why focus on code? Code is important because it forms an active layer of contemporary existence, yet to most people it remains hidden, invisible, and impenetrable. Understood technically, code provides the instructions required by software, but its instructions go beyond software functionality. Instead, code acts as a constant stream of instructions for everyday life, deeply interwoven with how we live, work, learn and identify ourselves, and how we are governed, administered, enabled and educated. And while code is humanly-made, scripted into being by programmers, it is also becoming increasingly autonomous of human oversight. Code that can write itself, artificial intelligence, and computers that can think are becoming significant sociotechnical actors in many aspects of social, cultural, economic and political experience.

So, code is not just a language for computers to read. It is a set of active scripts that are increasingly generative of how people think, feel, act, form identities, and conduct themselves. This begs the question, does code now act as a kind of pedagogy that is immanent and everywhere in daily life, running as a substratum of experience with the power to variously instruct, seduce, educate, liberate, discipline and govern us?

The seminars, then, will address unanswered questions about how code acts as a sociotechnical agent in education. It will focus on how code interacts with educational institutions—schools, colleges and HE; how code is interwoven with people’s lifelong learning within their everyday lives and communities; and how code acts on professional learning in workplaces. We will be asking how these interactions between code and education might impact on knowledge practices, pedagogic techniques, learner agency, identity formation and other aspects of ‘learning through code.’

But we will also be bringing a set of educational sensitivities to the social scientific study of code. While code has become a recent object of inquiry for geographers, sociologists, new media theorists and philosophers, there has been no concerted effort to understand how code acts educationally, pedagogically, or instructionally, to shape how we acquire knowledge, skills and forms of conduct. What educational understandings can help us to interpret the work that code does in the world?

In addition, we will explore the current interest in ‘learning to code,’ focusing on such things as after-school coding clubs for children, community-based programming, and the reintroduction of programming and computer science in schools. ‘Learning to code’ has become a popular discourse in the educational technology field, as well as in educational policy and in the commercial agendas of major computing corporations. But we want to ask what is really involved in learning to code, and inquire into its political implications. Writing computer code is not just a technical act but a representational act. It permits the coder to construct particular models of the external world that might work through persuasion, seduction, coercion or education to change the way people think. We might also ask whether learning to code can be understood in relation to social media practices of ‘co-production’ and ‘prosumption.’

We anticipate that the Code Acts in Education seminar series will generate a research network, research capacity, and a research agenda for the educational study of computer code.

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