Learning to code: A narrative inquiry - “Without code we would probably be like cave people”
In 2018 there was educational change in New Zealand with the introduction of new curriculum content for digital technologies. A key component of the digital technologies curriculum content was computational thinking where all students from Years 1 to 10 were expected to learn core coding concepts. The reasons for introducing coding into schools reflected a range of ideologies including preparing children to contribute meaningfully to society in the digital age. This narrative inquiry aimed to explore the value of coding in the curriculum through the experiences of students in Years 7 and 8. The research questions to meet this aim were; Why do students think coding is taught in school? Do students use coding outside of school? Why do students want to learn how to code and how do students think coding might help them or be useful? Curriculum ideologies underpinned this study as a theoretical framework to evaluate student experiences of coding across two case studies. The narratives were derived from focus group interviews held at two different schools. Similarities across the case studies included students’ beliefs about the benefits of including coding in the curriculum. Students’ felt confident that learning coding allowed them to; understand the digital world, create digital products, prepare for the future, teach others and fix broken technology. They could not comprehend what their lives would be like without technology and therefore coding. Some students believed that “without code we would probably be like cave people”. The main difference between the case studies was the level of teacher direction. This reflected a contradiction between competing curriculum ideologies and addressed the broader debate in education of 21st century skills versus powerful knowledge. The contradictions highlighted how the pedagogical design of coding in the curriculum could be effectively structured. Traditional knowledge and teacher explanation were found to be important to students when learning more complex coding. However, globalisation is a key concept for education in a digital age. Therefore, opportunities can be created for students to build on knowledge and collaborate in new and challenging ways. Treating coding as a social practice by teaching students to connect with the wider community or to use programming for social good can engage them with experiences beyond their own. This does not mean abandoning the elements of 21st century learning, such as students’ own experiences or active learning. Drawing on the strengths of both traditional knowledge and 21st century learning approaches can lead to more powerful knowledge creation.