Monday, May 14, 2018

It's not all 1's and 0's: Learning to Code with Codecademy

In a society that continues to put increased emphasis on the importance of developing “21st-century skills” (Rotherham & Willingham, 2010) to keep pace with the rapid development of information and communication technology, it is becoming increasingly important to develop learners that are equipped with the requisite skills to effectively operate these new technologies. Fortunately, there are a myriad of emerging technologies that can be leveraged to help learners get the skills they need to be digitally literate. However, with a wealth of new technologies and digital tools being constantly developed, it can be difficult to evaluate the usefulness of these items as a partner in the learning process and identify the new set of skills required to take advantages of the affordances that these tools offer.
The slew of new innovations has led to an “information overload” of sorts – one that has users completely inundated by educational technology. It is important that these technologies are properly vetted by analyzing their ability to bring meaningful and purposeful learning to the educational environment. To demonstrate, it is worthwhile to examine Codecademy, a tool that is used to teach introductory coding principles using an online platform.

What is Codecademy?

At its core, Codecademy is a tool that affords users the opportunity to develop the ability to program in twelve different programming languages through active experimentation (“About Codecademy”, 2017). Content delivery is broken into a set of modules that incrementally build on pre-existing knowledge of coding principles and fundamental problem solving skills before assessing the user’s understanding of the material. Throughout this process, dynamic feedback is consistently offered to the users to enrich the learning experience (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013) and ultimately develop the analytical, programming and problem solving skills of the user (Poulos & Mahony, 2008). The robustness of this software, in conjunction with its focus on curriculum-centred principles, makes this tool a good fit for a secondary school classroom.
When contrasting the affordances of this technological tool with the chart created by the students in the class, many of the core principles overlap. Principles such as using technology that is dynamic in its approach to assessment and content delivery, can facilitate autonomous inquiry and is capable of harnessing the power of positive risk-taking are all affordances of Codecademy that separate it from its peers. Though other learn-to-code sites possess many analogous exercises, they lack the individualized and dynamic approach to instruction that Codecademy offers through its algorithmic approach to learning.

Benefits of Codecademy
·      Free to use! Premium plans are available for a monthly fee that grants access to a personal tutor and more authentic (and personalized) tasks.
·      Puts an increased focus on developing digital citizenship and ethical use of coding.
·      Provides instant, dynamic and personalized feedback on errors using their algorithmic checker.
·      Encourages risk-taking to build new skills. Coding is about making mistakes to grow – Codecademy uses this approach to refine the skills of its users.

Drawbacks of Codecademy
·      A lack of development of social presence during the courses offered. The course feels like it is completed in isolation: most support is found through navigating forums or search engines.
·      Though a good introduction to the fundamentals, it fails to move past the introductory stages to more advanced projects. For early users, this is not a concern, however intermediate-level users may find their options limited for continued learning through the site.

About Codecademy. (2017). Codecademy. Retrieved from
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2013). Capacity Building Series: Dynamic Learning (1st ed. p. 1). Ministry of Education.
Poulos, A., & Mahony, M. J. (2008). Effectiveness of feedback: The students’ perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(2), 143–154. doi:10.1080/02602930601127869
Rotherham, A. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2010). “21st-Century” Skills. American Educator17.

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