Code.org’s recent video featuring tech innovators (Bill Gates, Mark Zukerberg) and celebrities (Will.i.am) exhorts mainstream Muggles to learn to code. It reminded me of a discussion I had on the subject at an educational technology conference a few years ago. I was teaching a Web publishing class at the time and happened to mention that my students were not allowed to use code creation software like Dreamweaver; they had to hand code every element of their websites. Note: I still would make them hand code 😉
One of the attendees who was part of the discussion responded with a storm of derision and scorn. Her rationale was that it was more important for the students to think critically about aspects of cyberculture and not waste their time learning skills that could be performed by a machine. “I am a member of a liberal arts institution and that’s how we do things” she said (or something to that effect) before she walked away. Well, in light of the emergence of the “everybody should learn programming” meme I may just have had the last laugh in this regard ;), and of course there’s a wee bit of pride in having been ahead of the curve.
The real issue at hand however, is that learning to code is not just about learning Java, C++, or HTML/CSS. It’s about learning to think in a certain way, to “mirror your thought process” as Steve Jobs said. One could almost say that coding is a metacognitive skill. It requires learning a new language, creative and innovative problem solving, critical reflection, analysis, and synthesis. Programming is also about collaboration and community. For those of us who code, it is commonplace to reach out to other programmers when we hit a stumbling block and tap into our collective knowledge for solutions. The non-profit Partnership for 21st Century Skills lists all of the above as essential skills to be included in education to ensure student success in the 21st century.
Now, it may seem that I am exhorting you to get some programming skills under your belt. Maybe I am. HTML/CSS coding puts me in a trance-like state where I lose all sense of time and space, but your mileage may vary. In any case, give it some thought, maybe even a whirl. And if it doesn’t pan out, maybe knitting or crochet might. For it seems, Knitters Are Human Computers too ;).