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Code for What?: Computer Science for Storytelling and Social Justice

Code for What?: Computer Science for Storytelling and Social Justice

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Publication Date: January 10th, 2023
The MIT Press
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Coding for a purpose: helping young people combine journalism, data, design, and code to make media that makes a difference.

Educators are urged to teach “code for all”—to make a specialized field accessible for students usually excluded from it. In Code for What? Clifford Lee and Elisabeth Soep instead ask the question, “code for what?” What if coding were a justice-driven medium for storytelling rather than a narrow technical skill? What if “democratizing” computer science went beyond the usual one-off workshop and empowered youth to create digital products for social impact? Lee and Soep answer these questions with stories of a diverse group of young people in Oakland, California, who combine journalism, data, design, and code to create media that make a difference.
These teenage and young adult producers created interactive projects that explored gendered and racialized dress code policies in schools; designed tools for LBGTQ+ youth experiencing discrimination; investigated facial recognition software and what can be done about it; and developed a mobile app to promote mental health through self-awareness and outreach for support, and more, for distribution to audiences that could reach into the millions. Working with educators and media professionals at YR Media, an award-winning organization that helps young people from underserved communities build skills in media, journalism, and the arts, these teens found their own vibrant answers to “why code?” They code for insight, connection and community, accountability, creative expression, joy, and hope.

About the Author

Clifford Lee is Professor and Director of Educators for Liberation, Justice, and Joy Teacher Education program at Mills College at Northeastern University and Scholar-in-Residence at YR Media. Elisabeth Soep is Special Projects Producer and Senior Scholar-in-Residence at YR Media. Her work has been featured in major media including NPR, the New York Times, National Geographic, and Teen Vogue. She is the author of Participatory Politics (MIT Press).