Metaphors of code—Structuring and broadening the discussion on teaching children to code

Digital technology has become embedded into our daily lives. Code is at the heart of this technology. The way code is perceived influences the way our everyday interaction with digital technologies is perceived: is it an objective exchange of ones and zeros, or a value- laden power struggle between white male programmers and those who think they are users, when they are, in fact, the product being sold. Understanding the nature of code thus enables the imagination and exploration of the present state and alternative future developments of digital technologies. A wider imagination is especially important for developing basic education so that it provides the capabilities for coping with these developments. Currently, the discussion has been mainly on the technical details of code. We study how to broaden this narrow view in order to support the design of more comprehensive and future-proof education around code and coding. We approach the concept of code through nine different metaphors from the existing literature on systems thinking and organisational studies. The metaphors we use are machine, organism, brain, flux and transformation, culture, political system, psychic prison, instrument of domination and carnival. We describe their epistemological backgrounds and give examples of how code is perceived through each of them. We then use the metaphors in order to suggest different complementary ways that ICT could be taught in schools. The metaphors illustrate different contexts and help to interpret the discussions related to developments in digital technologies such as free software movement, democratization of information and internet of things. They also help to identify the dominant views and the tensions between the views. We propose that the systematic use of metaphors described in this paper would be a useful tool for broadening and structuring the dialogue about teaching children to code.       

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