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What I Learned from Coding

What I Learned from Coding

WORDS BY WINNIE JIANG

Sometimes I wonder if television producers hold competitions to showcase the best hacking scenes in the history of hacking scenes.

Here’s one from Castle:

Fun stuff.

Over the midsem break I got my own taste of hacking. Or at least of the most basic elements of coding with the #SydneyCoding Workshop run by Dr Zhiyong Wang, an associate professor here at the University of Sydney.

I have always felt a little insecure about my sadly basic computer skills in this computer age world. This was recently reinforced when I tutored a young girl whose mother ran coding classes for primary school aged children. Yeah, feelsbadman.jpg. But then the universe showed me the way and blessed me with this workshop. Classes ran on the Tuesday, Wednesday, then a closing ceremony and presentation on the Friday.

Dr. Wang spoke to me about what coding means to him.

“To me, coding is like thinking and communicating. In the digital era, coding literacy has been as increasingly important as reading, writing, and numeracy. The world is rapidly changing. In the coming years, I believe coding literacy will become a necessary skill required in many jobs,” he said.

The Tuesday began with an introduction to coding, and to the language of computer processing. Dr Wang described how his daughter couldn’t care less about words. For example, you can say “hello world” with this Buzzfeed coding video: 

but what really drew her into coding was working around with images. Our tasks involved the creation of an ellipse through the computer language Processing (processing.org) and then it’s manipulation — from colour to shape to movement. One task was to “bounce” our ellipse, which was much harder than I had anticipated. But that sense of accomplishment when something finally worked rivals little else. I was curious as to what motivated Dr Wang to run this workshop, to which I found out the answer was passion. This passion is very evident in his classes, and he is just as excited at each small accomplishment from a student as any parent would be.

“I want to teach coding in an innovative way: using digital media to bridge digital world and physical world. I hope that the workshop will eventually make coding more attractive to a broad audience, help change the stereotype of computing, and empower everybody to innovate.”

On Wednesday we (wore pink and) worked with lights and music. We used a circuit playground and a neopixel light strip, where the circuit playground had a mini speaker and two buttons to which we could code in tones and (once we were more advanced) melodies. Personally, this series of lectures/tutorials simply made more sense to me than Tuesday’s. The class seemed to agree with me as the vibe in the room was different — more excited and less nervous. I think it’s also because we had already gained some experience due to Tuesday’s crash course.

In the profound words of Dr. Wang, “once you are able to do coding, you are not bound by any limit, but imagination and creativity. Coding will empower everybody to do much more. More importantly, you are no longer a consumer of innovation, but a creator of innovation.”

For the presentation on Friday, we were tasked to groups and create a mini-project, which could have been anything as long as we used coding. My coding buddy, Nicole, and I decided we would use the arduino to cover ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. (I was sure to let my mum know 10 years of piano lessons finally came to practical use.)

The future plans for #SydneyCoding Workshop is to “extend its content into an OLE (Open Learning Environment) unit”.

Watch this space kids, (and this 2013 masterpiece on why you should learn coding):

Full Interview with Doctor Wang

What is coding?

Coding (aka computer programming) is a process producing computer codes to create computer programs such as operating systems (OS), mobile apps, web sites, computer games, as well as the “brain” of driverless cars.

I personally think coding is a deep communication with computers. When I code, I feel that I am talking to a computer and continuously refining my thoughts.

Why did you decide to run the #SydneyCoding workshop?

I am always passionate about teaching coding to everybody, including my kids.

The workshop started from the University’s 2016 - 2020 Strategic Plan. One of the plan’s aims is to deliver a distinctive Sydney education by transforming our curriculum and the learning experiences of our students. Naturally, I want to contribute to the transformation with my expertise and best efforts.

My teaching and research focuses on digital media computing which aims to teach computer understand the world and create digital media content like human beings. Therefore, I want to teach coding in an innovative way: using digital media to bridge digital world and physical world.

I strongly believe, by doing so, students will have more fun and engaging experiences in learning coding, interact with peers from other disciplines, and better unleash their creativity. I hope that the workshop will eventually make coding more attractive to a broad audience, help change the stereotype of computing, and empower everybody to innovate.

What are the future plans for the #SydneyCoding Workshop?

Open Learning Environment (OLE) is one of the initiatives in the university strategic plan. It aims to allow students to meet their specific learning needs and broaden their skills of other disciplines through short and modular courses.

The immediate plan for the workshop is to extend its content into an OLE unit. Though it is not official yet, hopefully, this unit will be available in 2018 when the transformed new curriculum of our university will be launched. I believe there are many other possibilities too.

Why do you believe coding is important?

To me, coding is like thinking and communicating. In the digital era, coding literacy has been as increasingly important as reading, writing, and numeracy. The world is rapidly changing. Nowadays, we have taken the skill of using computer for granted, while possessing certain computer skills such as word processing was once a competent edge in job market.

In the coming years, I believe coding literacy will become a necessary skill required in many jobs, as computing advancement such as artificial intelligence is increasing making computers weaved into our daily life in either visible or invisible way. Once you are able to do coding, you are not bound by any limit, but imagination and creativity.

For example, when you have a nice toy, you can only play with the toy in limited ways. As seen in the workshop, you and many other students came up with many interesting projects, like different ways to play music, new toys, and new decoration. Coding will empower everybody to do much more. More importantly, you are no longer a consumer of innovation, but a creator of innovation.

What would you recommend for students who want to learn programming?

I think before learning coding, we need to ask ourselves what value we want to create with our coding skills, such as making somebody impressed with an electronic artwork or toy. Think of a small and interesting project, start working on it, gradually improve it. It is a great time to learn coding, as both software and hardware tools have never been such easily accessible before. Keep working on interesting projects will improve your coding skills, and bring you fulfilling experiences and lots of fun too.

Who is your coding inspiration?

My uncle provided me the first experience with computers. He is a scientist. I still remember that when I was a kid and visiting him, he took me to see a computer occupying a whole room in his office and told me that the computer was busy in helping him with his scientific work.

Once I got into university, I started learning coding and wanted to make computers help us more. It is the aim of my research.

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