Tag Archives: Educational technology

What Most Schools Don’t Teach … And I’m Determined to Learn

At the beginning of both 2012 and 2013, I named learning to code as one of my goals for the year. Recently, I have been exploring new ways to accomplish that goal and I wanted to share them in case others would find them useful too!

In the past, I have explored parts of Codeacademy and TryRuby. Unfortunately, my participation on both of those sites was too sporadic to really teach me very much, so I have been looking into other ways to learn coding.

This spring, I spent more time engaging with Scratch because I hope to introduce it to my students next year. As I mentioned in January, I have been using the Super Scratch Programming Adventure book to guide my learning. Participating in the MIT Learning Creative Learning MOOC has also helped me to try new projects and actually publish one of my own on the Scratch website. I think having a resource like the Scratch book that I can carry around and explore at my own pace, one that’s engaging and asks me to create something with a purpose (e.g., a functioning game) has helped me to learn more of the program. Having the MOOC community has also made a difference because I have been exposed to a group of people engaged in similar work and willing to post their own work and share ideas. Finally, the hope of using this with my students has been a big motivator in helping me persevere with Scratch.

But what if you’re not looking to learn Scratch? Luckily, I’ve also found some other great resources recently to learn coding that have similar supports. One of them is joining local Meetup groups that supports tech learning and offer coding classes. There are actually a couple of groups in my area and they seem to collaborate together or at least announce events for one another so that I have an opportunity to learn almost any coding language I’d like by attending one of their classes. Unfortunately, some of them are pricey (at least for coding newbies on a tight budget) and they are also often on weekends, which can be a challenge sometimes.

Still, I recently attended a Python class and really loved it! I had no previous experience with Python and after a day long session on a Saturday plus a few hours Friday night, I really felt like I had a foundation for working with the language. I still need to work on learning all of the syntax rules but the logic makes much more sense and I was exposed to some great, free resources, like CodingBat and OpenHatch Wiki. Being in a room full of other learners and facilitators (who were very willing to help and problem-solve!) and having such a large block of time dedicated to learning Python, really made it manageable to dive into the language. Now, I need to get back to Codeacademy to practice and start trying to apply my knowledge!

After winning a contest on Twitter for a free class on Codagogy.com, I also took a two week course with them on the basics of HTML. As they define them it, Codagogy offers “Online collaborative web development courses.” where you can “Learn to code in a small group of like-minded women.

codagogy html image

I have picked up bits and pieces of HTML over the years working on my own websites and projects but I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still learned a lot from the basics course. There were answers to little questions that I had always wondered about and wonderfully clear yet concise screencasts about the how-to’s and why’s about things like getting your own domain, finding a server, and adding alt tags to images.

Codagogy in 60 seconds from Susan Buck on Vimeo.

My favorite part of Codagogy courses is how they are structured. You join a two week course but assignments/exercises are only distributed on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday, so the work is not overwhelming and is gently introduced. There are also deadlines and points you can gain from completing exercises to help keep you motivated and on-track. This is something I found I struggle with on more free-form sites like Codeacademy. Plus, there are little quizzes at the end of each exercise where you’re asked to check your understanding and also apply your knowledge, so you can walk away feeling confident about what you’ve learned and your ability to use your new skills.

Finally, you are in the course with a limited number of other participants and you have access to a course forum where you can meet/greet those other women, ask questions, and share ideas or resources. This community aspect really brings it all together and makes Codagogy a great  but flexible space to learn new coding skills. Best of all, their courses are very affordable and if you refer friends, both you and they, get $17 off!

codagogy css basics logo

I’m excited to start my next Codagogy course, CSS Basics! In an effort to get more women coding, Codagogy has kindly offered two codes to give away for a free Codagogy class. Even if you’re not looking to code right now, you can sign up for their class on SEO or get notified when Photoshop for the Web is ready.

Enter to win a free class!

Digital Literacy Defined?

Digital Literacies Peacock

Digital Literacies Peacock (Photo credit: *s@lly*)

What does it mean to be digitally literate? And who can actually answer that question today – teachers, administrators, researchers, students? I’m not sure I can do it justice. I think that’s one of my big takeaways from participating in the #etmooc Digital Literacy topic.

I have been busier than I expected these past two weeks so I have not had a chance to follow the Twitter and Google+ dialogues very closely or read many blog posts and I am definitely feeling that lack. The amount of learning and questioning I’m prompted to engage in by participating with the group is a credit to the #etmooc community and I hope I’m able to dive back in more next week. Still, from the archives I listened to and the one session I was able to attend (Howard Rheingold’s Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Participation, Collaboration & Network Know-How) live, I have come to realize that digital literacy or literacies is no simple topic.

In part, this is because there are still disputes about how to define literacy itself and then there is the challenge of trying to define something that is constantly shifting and changing in response to technology developments and cultural shifts. Similar to the use of “21st Century Skills,” at what point do they just become “skills” or “literacies”? Do we need to distinguish between the digital aspects and the analog ones?

Web literacy? (v0.1)

Web literacy? (v0.1) (Photo credit: dougbelshaw)

And then there is the question of whether to differentiate between skills and literacies. As Steve shares so well in this recent post, there are “nuances and emerging aspects of learning [specifically] through digital media.” I agree with the inherently contextual and cultural nature of (digital) literacies and the idea that while certain skills may be transferable between them (e.g., writing an email) the ways in which it is done can depend on the type of literacy used in that context. For example, when writing an email to a friend, young students might use very informal language or text speak but hopefully, when writing to teachers or professors, they code-switch to a more professional tone and different type of text and then they might have to adjust their practice again if they enter the workforce and learn the unique email protocols used there. I know I have found that in certain contexts, the expectation is that everyone at a conference or event will be tweeting and know how to converse in that type of 140 character, shortened URL code while at other conferences, I have to be aware that many people have never even seen a tweet and I need to be literate in other ways of communication to connect with them.

As an educator, what I think is important for me and others to consider is whether our students are cognizant of the different types of digital literacies they already know, of the digital literacies they will need to know, and of the concept of digital literacies as a whole? In reflecting on the past two weeks, I realized that while my schedule was busier I was also a little less motivated to blog/participate because I felt there was less creation work and more analysis of deeper concepts that I needed to do to wrap my head around digital literacies. Honestly, I love to sit back and just think and reflect on ideas but when I’m pressed for time, it becomes a lot more challenging and I definitely felt like digital literacies required … requires … a lot more thought before I feel like I have a true grasp of it.

So, my next project is to consider ways to create in order to better break apart and conceptualize digital literacies and then to consider projects that would be developmentally appropriate for my young students to create so they can begin to learn through this process too. When we were learning and sharing ideas about digital storytelling, I almost couldn’t resist posting multiple times during the week because I was having so much fun creating and learning and I wanted to share that with the #etmooc community. I’d like to find a way for that same level of excitement to be shared around digital literacies so that I can then invite my students into these engaging activities and open up an early dialogue with them about ways they can each define digital literacies for themselves.