Software studies in education

The programme for the first Code Acts in Education seminar (Tues 28 January 2014 at the University of Stirling Management Centre) is now available on the seminars page of this site. It has shaped up as an introduction to some of the key themes, problems and methods for an emerging ‘software studies’ approach in education. Rob Kitchin, author of the excellent book Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life, will launch off with a detailed introduction to theories and approaches to computer code and the need for research on ‘software-mediated’ education. Ben Williamson will consider how a number of educational discourses and initiatives concerned with computer code, such as the ‘Hour of Code,’ and emerging software devices such as data analytics, are being used as models by various authorities (government departments, businesses, think tanks) for imagining new ways of managing and governing education. Amy Solder and John Potter will then discuss the ‘Learning to Code’ movement. Amy will present work on ‘Learning to Code’ and ‘Make Things Do Stuff’ being carried out by Nesta and its partners, ampping out its political and economic dimensions, and then John will report on recent empirical project of young people coding and consider whether this might be analysed in terms of wider digital literacies and the ‘curation’ of lived and popular cultures. The full abstracts are as follows:

Rob Kitchin. Code acts in code/space: making sense of software mediated education
Increasingly the practices and spaces of education are being mediated and augmented by software-enabled technologies. Teaching materials are being created using software programmes, teaching is being co-delivered through digital media, supported by digital ancillary material and social media platforms, and various forms of assessment are being processed using software packages. Classrooms are enhanced with digital projectors and smart interfaces. Administration is reliant on spreadsheets and online forms. Research and fieldwork is increasingly mediated by digital technologies – the internet, cameras, voice recorders, sensors. Software is making a difference to the way in which education is conceived and delivered. And yet little critical attention has been paid to thinking through the nature of educational software and the role of code in reshaping the educational landscape. This talk will draw on the nascent field of software studies to examine the nature of code and how it co-produces education, its practices and spaces.

Ben Williamson. Governing by code: remodelling education through software
As computer software sinks into the everyday spaces and practices of education, it is increasingly connected with new ideas about governing educational practices and learning processes. This exploratory presentation will consider how a combination of discourses about software, along with emerging coded devices, are being deployed by a variety of organisations and experts as models for reimagining education. Synthesising ideas about governing with recent software studies insights, the presentation will consider how, for example, database-driven analytics software based on predictive algorithms are being mobilised as a model for ‘personalising’ pedagogy; how the ‘Hour of Code’ initiative has positioned young people as ‘democratised’ software producers; and how ideas about networks – understood as algorithmic mosaics of connections – are being mobilised to reimagine schools as ‘hubs’ of learning connected via social media. These discursive developments and deployments of devices are infused with aspirations to govern the thoughts, actions and conduct of learners.

Amy Solder. Learning to code: people, politics and power
Along with many others, Nesta proactively lobbied for computer science to be taught in schools. It is a founding partner of Make Things Do Stuff – a campaign to inspire more young people to become creators, not just users of digital technologies, launched by George Osborne in 2013 – and also funds innovative organisations including Apps for Good, Code Club, Technocamps, CoderDojo. Drawing on these experience, Amy will explore the political and economic context of ‘learning to code’, map what’s happening on the ground, and share some of the challenges.

John Potter. Third space networks: digital literacies, media arts and coding
‘Learning to code’ has been positioned by some as an educational imperative, essential for widening later participation in computer science and related industries. But coding may perhaps also be more inclusively located as part of a set of skills and dispositions in wider digital literacy, alongside production in music, radio, animation, video and curation in social media. Based on observations of students aged between 10 and 14 making simple computer games from stories, the talk will explore whether ‘learning to code’ can fit alongside these other productive, digital media practices of individuals and communities in curating their experience of wider lived and popular culture.

Places are still available but you must register. There is also up to £30 available for each delegate to support travel costs.

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