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In the club

Computer science alumnus bringing programming to all ages

Student Life

By Kelly Foss

Every two weeks, in a computer lab on the St. John’s campus, a group of dedicated programmers get together to share their knowledge and skills with the general public.

Code Club is just one service provided by CodeNL, a group dedicated to improving computer programming education in Newfoundland and Labrador. At Code Club, people of all ages and skills can drop in to get assistance with something they’re working on or to learn something new.

“We have lessons ready for beginners that can be geared towards younger kids or adults, and other lessons for people interested in a particular area,” said Mark Stacey, a bachelor of science alumnus who runs CodeNL with the organization’s founder, James Flynn. “We meet in a computer lab in the Computing Services building and can have up to 30 people in attendance some weeks. We’ve been doing this for about a year now and it’s been a great success.”

Demystifying code

As a computer science student at Memorial, Mr. Stacey became heavily involved in the Computer Science Society. The group wanted to raise the profile of their department and programming in general, so in 2014 they hosted an Hour of Code event at O’Donel High School, Mr. Stacey’s alma mater in Mount Pearl. The one-hour introduction to computer science, hosted annually around the world as part of Computer Science Education Week, aims to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics.

“If [students] aren’t exposed to it, how will they ever know it’s a possibility?” — Mark Stacey

The event went over so well the group wanted to take the idea further, but they weren’t sure how. That’s when they heard Mr. Flynn was looking for volunteers to help with his new organization, CodeNL.

Joining forces

“James had the idea that there’s a deficit in our school system, a lack of computer programming education in this province that he saw in other school curriculums,” said Mr. Stacey. “When he put a call out for volunteers I was the first to show up, and we’ve been leading the organization together ever since.”

They essentially decided instead of doing their own thing with the Computer Science Society, they would join forces and consolidate their efforts through CodeNL.

“We didn’t want to have to stop when we graduated and we wanted the flexibility to involve people who are not affiliated with Memorial,” said Mr. Stacey. “Although a solid group of our volunteers are either current computer science students or graduates from Memorial.”

Programming advocacy

In addition to teaching code and offering a regular speaker series with local computer programmers and technology professionals, another focus of CodeNL is advocating for computer programming education in the public school system.

“We’ve organized petitions and met with members of government, the school board and the provincial teachers’ association to get them talking about it,” said Mr. Stacey. “Generally the response has been encouraging, but currently they are distracted by other things. We are not giving up, though. Eventually, if we are persistent, it will happen.”

Digital age reality

He says it helps that Newfoundland and Labrador can look to other provinces’ lead in the area and that they’re not advocating for anything “radical or new.” He says the group just wants Newfoundland and Labrador to be on par with other provinces: British Columbia recently announced it is adding computer coding to its school curriculum, Nova Scotia is planning for some element of programming in each grade and Ontario has had it in its curriculum for some time.

“I can’t think of any discipline that doesn’t benefit from some degree of programming, from science labs to office environments.” — Mark Stacey

Mr. Stacey believes understanding the basics of coding is important for everyone, regardless of their current or future occupation, and that it’s a vital skill in the digital age.

“People think we want everyone to be a programmer and work in software, but we know that’s only going to be a small percentage of the population. However, I can’t think of any discipline that doesn’t benefit from some degree of programming, from science labs to office environments, and it can augment your other skills, even if you don’t specialize in it.”

STEM-related

With the current push on science, technology, engineering and mathematics—the STEM subjects—education in the younger grades, Mr. Stacey says programming is a major area of technology young people aren’t being exposed to.

“If they aren’t exposed to it, how will they ever know it’s a possibility? All we want is to have it introduced to students and they can choose to pursue it more on their own. That’s our goal.”

For more on CodeNL or their latest events, please visit the website.


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