Thinking About Writing And Code In Education

Lately, I’ve been investigating a few different solutions for public-facing course websites. Why does it interest me so much? I spent several years in the classroom as a student, and a few more as an instructor. My growing interest in basic web “hacking” and “development” (I put those in quotes because I’m ignorant of both) has led me to imagine what a course “optimized for the web” might look like. This is an entire field of study, of course, and I’m fairly new to it. Most of my contributions include shallow assessments and blanket statements like “This is cool” and “All courses should be like this!,” but curiousity is how I learn, so I’ll continue fumbling blindly through the darkness until someone tells me not to. 

If anyone is interested, here are some impressive educational projects that show what’s possible:

These spaces would be immensely helpful if I wanted to commit the time to learn their subjects, or if I needed to brush up on previously-acquired knowledge. 

I’d love to know what else is out there. I’m especially interested in humanities and literature courses shared in this way. 

This investigation has been enlightening to say the least, and there’s a ton to learn when it comes to sharing educational content on the open web and moving beyond the LMS as a one-size-fits-all solution for education. I’ll be using this space to collect notes and links for a longer piece about why this transition is important, but for now I’ll say that I’m inspired by educators who go above and beyond to share their content in this way.

I also wanted to share a brief excerpt from one of the above links, the Advanced JavaScript syllabus, that speaks to the complexities of plagiarism and learning to code. My primary teaching experience is with first-year writing, and plagiarized writing offers a problematic scenario for “reuse,” one of the 5 R’s of open content. It’s possible for writing instructors to advocate for openness and reuse while also being firm about plagiarism as a serious infringement, of course, but I think we need to be honest and forthright about the complexities. I like how the Statement of Plagiarism on this syllabus handles this problem:

Reuse and building upon ideas or code are major parts of modern software development. As a professional programmer you will never write anything from scratch. This class is structured such that all solutions are public. You are encouraged to learn from the work of your peers. I won’t hunt down people who are simply copying-and-pasting solutions, because without challenging themselves, they are simply wasting their time and money taking this class.

Please respect the terms of use and/or license of any code you find, and if you reimplement or duplicate an algorithm or code from elsewhere, credit the original source with an inline comment.

The principles remain the same in different contexts: if you reuse (for writing, that’s paraphrazing, quoting, and summarizing) you must attribute. But ultimately it’s a question of each student’s own learning. In software development and writing, the outcomes are different, but the process remains the same.

Written on September 15, 2016