What is coding in university in practice?

I am going to join a panel titled “Practising Research: Knowledge Creation Through Experimental Practices” as part of The Purpose of The Future University conference at Aarhus University in Nov, 2017.

My abstract:

What is coding in university in practice? Computer coding courses have increasingly been integrated into school curriculum, from primary schools to higher education beyond Computer Science and Engineering disciplines. One of the practical reasons is that IT-related jobs are in high demand across industries. Beyond tech companies, other sectors, such as medical health, toys and publishing, have been highly digitalized to support and facilitate new models of user engagement, as well as data capturing, processing and analytics. In other words, knowing how to code contributes to the economic value and growth of computational artifacts.

Despite aiming to develop new applications, platforms and solution, there is an increasing critical attention to the understanding, theorizing and analyzing of our digital environment through code studies (Chun, 2011; Berry, 2011). With the prevalence of technology today in contemporary culture, enormous quantities of data are generated and disseminated in real-time through a highly networked, programmable and distributed environment. The rise of so-called ‘big data’ in the 21st century has sparked unprecedented economic value through datafication—a phenomenon in which personal profiles and behavioral logs are stored on corporate server farms. Data is captured, processed, distributed and analyzed to generate new information and knowledge. The understanding of such systems through coding practice, the reading and writing of computer code, may offer opportunities for students to make inquires, create new modes of knowledge and raise different kinds of questions in the area of humanistic IT, including social, political and ethical ones.

The term ‘creative coding’ emphasizes code as an expressive material, exploring code concepts and producing creative works through experimentation (Maeda, 2004; Peppler & Kafai, 2009). In this presentation, we propose learning to code via exploration, reflexive thinking, critical making, artistic intervention and creative production in higher education. Instead of learning to code from a Computer Science perspective with a focus on technology as an instrument to tackle real world problems, the undergraduate course Aesthetic Programming has been introduced at the Department of Digital Design, Aarhus University, addressing coding as an aesthetic, creative and critical endeavor beyond its functional application.

Beyond learning basic concepts in computer programming and designing and developing computational artifacts, students in the course also explore coding as a practice of thinking with and in the world, and learn to understand the complex computational procedures that underwrite our experiences and realities in digital culture. In other words, the practice of coding is neither just focused on building functional applications; it is also a way to examine and reflect the increasing role of computation in our society and culture. More specifically, Aesthetic Programming can be seen as a practice-oriented exploration of the relationship between art, design, technology and culture, examining wider political, cultural, social and aesthetic phenomena. Through emphasizing programming as critical work in itself, the practice of coding and the production of concrete artifacts serve not only as creative expressions but also as a methodological vehicle to examine complex techno-cultural systems through the acts of creating. This presentation will discuss the methods of teaching, the structures, outcomes and challenges of the Aesthetic Programming course, which contributes to the discussion of the future university in the context of humanistic IT.


Berry, D. M (2011). The Philosophy of Software: Code and Mediation in the Digital Age. Palgrave macmillan.

Chun, W. H. K. (2011). Programmed Visions: Software and Memory. The MIT Press.

Maeda, J. (2004). Creative Code. London: Thames & Hudson.

Mortfort, N. (2016). Exploratory Programming: For the Arts and Humanities. The MIT Press.

Peppler, K. A., & Kafai, Y. B. (2009). Creative Coding: Programming for Personal Expression. The 8th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, Rhodes, Greece.