Coding. Or not.

All the pieces fit together

OK. So the ‘thing’ for 2012 seems to be coding. Everybody is either doing it, or urging others to do it, or writing, blogging or tweeting about doing it.

Roy Tennant over at Digital Shift says all library professionals need to at least understand coding & urges us to try out Codeacademy’s Code Year initiative. I happen to agree – I find even my very basic understanding of HTML to be practical and useful (although at this point largely just for maintaining my blog), so I signed up and have been receiving my lessons weekly by email. I should point out here that I know absolutely nothing about coding. I am a complete novice with no experience with or exposure to coding before now (except that tiny bit of HTML I mostly learned mucking about in WordPress).

This has been a really smart initiative by Codeacademy, for lots of reasons, many of which you can read about here. There’s been an amazing takeup of the course, with tens of thousands signing up in the first few days of 2012.

Matthew Murray at ExtremeTech questions whether anyone can learn serious coding in this way and that it promotes a shallow view of the programming industry. Head on over there to read more of his opinion.  A couple of sentences in Murray’s piece rang true for me because you see, I haven’t enjoyed the CodeYear experience at all so far. Murray says

Just for kicks, I sat down with the opening lesson of Codecademy, just to see what it was like. It asked me to type in my name, then append it with “.length,” then type in a simple math equation. All of it was basic JavaScript, with no indication of what was happening or why.

I have just finished week 1 of the Code Year course. I struggled through it, partly because it’s so foreign to me and way outside my comfort zone. However, at least part of the problem lies in the way the course has been written (at least week 1). There’s no context, no goal setting, no outcomes, no sense at all of what comes next or where the piece you are copying and pasting fits into a bigger picture.

It’s early days yet. Much of what is written on the web about this so far is praising the initiative but there seems to be very little of substance about the content or the delivery. Over at Palely Loitering, Laura comments that she has managed to finish lesson 1, but she’s not really sure how much she learned about applying it in the real world. I hear her!

I have found the user forums that come as part of CodeAcademy to be both useful and frustrating. Useful because there are folks in there trying to help others and frustrating because everyone asking questions seems to have the same problems – lack of guidance in the ‘lessons’ and very little understanding of what is being asked of the ‘student’.

Checking the #codeyear hashtag on twitter brings up a lot of results, but scrolling through I think many of them are auto created by the program itself (for example, when you sign up you get the opportunity to send a pre written tweet that says

I’m learning to code with @Codecademy in 2012. Join me! #codeyear

Not helpful. I’m looking for critical comment, not more marketing.

I’ll go on to lesson 2 – I’m working on the theory that it may just all suddenly make sense or appear to be in context. I’ll keep you posted.




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  1. Pingback: Towards digital humanities: testing out some coding | What's next?

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