Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Coding and all that

The English curriculum has repeatedly been the site of ideological conflict. Opinions on how we should teach students to talk about language have often divided educators. Traditionalists have tended to extoll the virtues of grammar teaching as a way of maintaining or improving standards of English, whereas radical voices have argued for teaching different kinds of meta-language, often aimed at exposing the operation of power and manipulation in various kinds of texts. The original formulation of the genre approach, and the wranglings over Knowledge about Language reveal the highly contested nature of developing a critical or emancipatory perspective. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to demonstrate the relative merits of inculcating a critical perspective through different approaches. But now the whole debate seems to be shifting from English to the technology curriculum. Coding and programming are being touted as the magic bullet to giving students a better understanding of how technology works 'under the hood', as opposed to 'in the 'hood'. John Naughton is an academic and journalist who is usually worth listening to, however, his celebration of the inclusion of programming in Gove's flawed EBacc is misguided. The idea that understanding coding might somehow inoculate us and our children against the ravages of corporate manipulation (ie: Facebook, Google etc), has already been elaborated by Lanier in his book 'You are not a Gadget', but if we look at the parallels - ie grammar in the English/literacy curriculum, we may have serious misgivings. In fact, given that digital communication is the cutting edge of new and emerging social practices we might be better to focus on promoting productive and ethical consumption and production. In an article written in 2007 'Writing the future in the digital age', I called this approach critical digital literacy. The term has been rehashed and developed by others since, and last year I revisited the idea, with my colleague Cathy Burnett. The result is here - I'm not claiming that it goes the whole way, but I think it introduces a perspective that the hastily reconstructed ICT brigade are in danger of missing.

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