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Code Literacy, Cultural Literacy and Numeracy
Submitted by: everybody
07/06/2015 - 16:41

Teaching Programming in the First Year of College for Art and Design Students

As the founders of ARRAY[ ], we believe it is the responsibility of foundations art and design programs to teach programming to first year art and design students. 

Creative coding will be taught in first year art and design courses. It is inevitable. Code is the oxygen that surrounds our mediated environment. Code drives the electricity flowing through our landscapes, code simulates the models of environmental collapse, and code creates the billions of dollars spent to distract people from considering what that collapse might mean. 

Art and design students should learn code in foundations because art and design students can operate outside of the bounds of acceptable behavior.

From: Coding Slowly [intro to basic programing with Processing] (link)

“Code underlies many forms of contemporary art and design: architecture, data visualization, electronics, fabrication, graphics, imaging, kinetic sculpture/objects, media, modeling, output, sound, visual communication design/publication, video games/interactive spaces, web-based art/design. Any process involving software, electronics, digital fabrication, or the internet involves code. Code sensibilities and skills are immensely useful and transferrable. Code literacy leads to agency. Agency becomes options. Options translate to flexibility for artists and designers. Creative outliers in sustainable situations ask questions and push boundaries.”

Our approach is based on the idea that code, taught slowly, by people to people, provides agency. We built ARRAY[ ] to support faculty who want to learn and teach new media for foundations.” 

Code isn't easy. "Coding Slowly" provides a flow of commented samples presented along with relatable visual art and design references/themes/topics/activities. "Slowly" is used in the project title to communicate, with intention, that being careful is a-ok [and encouraged]. Learning isn't a race. While code concepts should be considered/mapped starting in preschool, this approach is not currently a norm except for a privileged few [in the U.S.]. For later-learners new concepts take getting used to. Some learners need to experiment, some need regular practice, some need a project to get started. Some people need alone-time, some people need group dynamics. Progress is relative. Programming is not easy for most artists/designers. 

From Anastasia Salter, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Program or Be Programmed”? (link)

"The learning that goes on in the traditional classroom may teach digital literacy, but does it teach an understanding of code? Rushkoff claims that for students taught to use programs rather than to create them, “their bigger problem is that their entire orientation to computing will be from the perspective of users. When a kid is taught software as a subject, she’ll tend to think of it like any other thing she has to learn. Success means learning to behave in the way the program needs her to. Digital technology becomes the immutable thing, while the student is the moving part, conforming to the needs of the program in order to get a good grade on the test” (136). This echoes some of the same patterns I’ve seen in my classroom: a student who is only familiar with what others’ programs can do, and used to working within those systems, might never consider a solution outside those boxes."

Artists and designers don't usually gravitate towards the study of computer science. Material - even code - needs qualities, context, and meaning. This can be accomplished through individual experience, or it can be shaped through curriculum and pedagogy. "Coding Slowly" can be focused on the traditional formal concerns of art and design foundations, or it could be attached to contemporary practices. For example, If the teacher/learner is interested in socio-political themes, code-based practices can reference recognition/surveillance systems, data scenarios, internet [history/politics/darknet], or other underexplored or invisible territories. If the teacher/learner is interested in gender/race discrepancies in technology-oriented fields, screening the Hello World! Processing Documentary [] will reveal a lack of diversity in the field of creative-coding. Digging into game design/mechanics/cultures and problematic entertainment tropes/stereotypes will reveal some pervasive patterns. Less socio-political approaches might involve associating code-based practices with everyday life experience like language, routines, and cultural artifacts and activities. 

We have a long way to go. There is incredible resistance to teaching programming at the first year art and design level. There are multiple blockages that need to be addressed. Our next few posts will discuss these resistances.