Writing, Coding and Education: Why They Matter

Enter CaveBack in my grad school days, I was called a “run-of-the-mill programmer” by a brilliant IT genius. For a guy whose only computer coursework consists of a Pascal class in high school (“taught” by a math teacher who didn’t know the language, and checked my answers against those in the teacher’s manual), I still consider that high praise.

There’s no way I could compete, head-to-head, against an experienced programmer, but in order to do what I need to get done in my various scholarly, pedagogical, and creative projects, I’ve taught myself enough coding that I can get by.

Nothing in my own education gave me any hint that I might one day depend on my Fortran analysis skills to help me earn tenure as an English faculty member.

When I found myself looking at the FORTAN source code to a legendary computer program that pretty much everyone assumed had been lost for 30 years, I knew what the program was supposed to do so well that, once I recognized the various pieces of data, and figured out the various connections and dependencies between them, I was prepared to write a scholarly article that involved computer software archaeology (along with cave-crawling). 

It’s not likely that any of my students will one day suddenly need to learn FORTRAN, which is good, because I don’t know it well enough to teach it. Even if I were to teach my students the current cutting-edge media design tool, there’s no guarantee that the same tool will be relevant by the time the graduate. (Boy am I glad I didn’t add a requirement for a course in Flash.)

But just as I tell my student journalists that they can’t ignore the basics of math (such as how to figure a percentage, what a statistical margin of error is, and how to spot an empty statistic), I tell them writers and artists can’t afford to leave hard data and technology to the science, business, and engineering majors. Humanists need to understand, and wield, the power of quantitative data, because if we don’t, then the people who do will allocate funds, levy taxes, elect officials, and pass laws that benefit their world view, at the expense of ours.

Not convinced yet? See Steve Buttry’s 6 reasons journalism schools should teach students computer code.

I can cut and paste embed codes or other snippets of code and sometimes I can find or fix a problem in the HTML version of a post. But one of the most glaring holes in my skill set is my ignorance of coding. Filling that gap is on my someday list, but my somedays have been too rare and my list too long.If you’re a journalism student, fill that gap now, even if you want to be a reporter or whatever you want to be. If you’re on a journalism school curriculum committee, insist that your students fill that gap. Here are six reasons why J-schools should teach students to code. —The Buttry Diary.

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