Creative Code

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Want to support the development of young creative coders in South Africa? You can make a donation via our crowdfunding campaign on Thundafund.

Creative Code is a prize-winning World Design Capital 2014 recognised project. Winner of a WDC2014  “Best Pitch” award (27 May 2014), Creative Code introduces school kids to computer coding, making coding and visual design more accessible through youth media, gaming and mobile phones. You can see some of our lessons here.

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Winning pitch: The Creative Code team at a World Design Capital 2014 pitching session

A low-cost media literacy coding curriculum is presented through weekly lessons and longer workshops during summer and winter vacations.

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Khazatown Blues: A localised version of Super Mario

Projects  emphasize youth culture (mobile photography, pixelart games) and local visual languages and media  (beading, patterns and fabric design) to engage students with the logical and procedural dimension of visual design.

In contrast to the ‘black box’ approach of most digital literacy curricula, Creative Code emphasises tangible programming, embodied learning, web-making, visual design, FOSS development processes, and game design and development.

Our goals

Code craft

A central goal is to engage young people in meaningful creative digital design projects. Over the past eighteen months, the Ikamva Coders have produced several   original games and many visual designs. These experiences and learning processes  have been documented with the aim of producing curricula, learning materials,   and research into the representational and conceptual processes at work as   young people learn about coding and digital design.

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Logo for Khazatown Blues – a game developed by Grade 12 students from Creative Code.

Careers and further study

We also encourage and assist the coders in applying to courses of study involving digital media and Computer Science.  The Coders learn about various opportunities that are open to them – not only Computer   Science (where Maths can be a big barrier) but also the many creative career   paths which today require digital skills or coding.

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We mobilise code

Our key long-term aim, is to make our coding lessons accessible to young people via low-cost mobile phones and tablets, and to use our research to improve the accessibility of such introductory materials. Right now we’re experimenting with our own tablet apps, and with the great resources available for mobile coding from TouchDevelop.

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Why coding lessons?

Only the most privileged young South Africans have opportunities to study Visual Art or Information Technology at school level. According to the Department of Basic Education, in 2013, only 4 874 of SA’s 562 112 Grade 12s studied Information Technology and only 6 755 studied Visual Art for the National Senior Certificate. This means that only around 1% of matriculants are getting a foundation in the subjects which would help lead them to careers in Digital Media or Computer Science.

Who are we?

Creative Code is run in partnership between the Centre for Film and Media Studies from the University  of Cape Town, and Ikamva Youth, a multi award-winning youth development  non-profit organization. Ikamva Youth relies on volunteer tutors and equips learners from disadvantaged communities with the knowledge, skills, networks and resources to access  tertiary education and/or employment opportunities once they matriculate.

We often work collaboratively with staff and postgraduate students from Computer Science and UCT’s Centre in ICT for Development.

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Bhavana Harrilal from the Centre in ICT4D and Paul Mesarcik from Thingking

The Ikamva Coders are twenty eight members of Ikamva Youth, ages fifteen to eighteen. They   participate in a volunteer-run after-school programme, attending extra-mural   homework and tutoring  sessions and holiday workshops.

Contact Us

Our Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/creativecodeSA

You can make a donation via our crowdfunding campaign on Thundafund

https://www.thundafund.com/creativecode

We publish our artwork and games on our website

http://ikamvacodes.wordpress.com

More about Ikamva Youth

Ikamva Youth   http://ikamvayouth.org/

More Processing … this time for Kids

mapcoords mapcoords ms_pacman

Mozilla is running a free online collaborative course to explore new ways of teaching digital literacies through making and learning together. It’s called Teach the Web This leads up to the Mozilla #makerparty, which celebrates the web and making, two of my favourite things.

I’ve joined a group who are discussing ‘Creative Coding with Canvas’ and so am hoping to get some new ideas and tips about how to teach coding-shy design students and newbies about the HTML Canvas element. As my contribution to this group, I thought I’d share an introductory programming course that I’ve been running with a group of teens at the Ikamva Youth branch in Makhaza, Cape Town.  They call themselves the Ikamvacoders – what an inspiring group of young people.

Hard-working Ikamvacoders take a break
Hard-working Ikamvacoders take a break

The course introduces some basic programming topics using Processing and Processing.js, a language designed for visual expression. Processing is based in Java, but now makes it easy to export procedural art, interactive sketches, simple games and animations to Javascript, via processing.js, which uses  the HTML5 canvas element. Processing now also provides a very effective and easy Android mode.

Learning Processing from Pacman

Processing comes with absolutely beautiful tutorials, clearly explained examples and extensive online resources. In my experience, although these resources are aimed at non-programmers, they are generally pitched a bit high for absolute beginners, particularly for kids. The Ikamvacoders asked whether they could learn how to build a simple 2D game. This led me to develop some absolute beginner Processing tutorials around a Pacman theme.

As you’ll see the tutorials are still quite sketchy, and I hope to have some time to put in some extra explanatory details which I handle verbally in my classes. But the examples all work and they should provide a good starting point for anyone who wants to take this visual approach to teaching programming.

The Ikamvacoders also want to make web portfolios and I’m looking forward to introducing them to some of the new Mozilla tools, so that they can start publishing their own work using tools such as Thimble and Popcorn Maker, which look perfect for kids and teens working at this introductory level.

Future goals – mobile Processing

I’m extremely impressed with how the Ikamvacoders have taken to  Processing, but its frustrating that they have so little access to computers, so little time to practice their skills. Overall my objective is to investigate mobile interfaces to developing Processing sketches. These need to work on the phones even when they are out of airtime (this happens a lot of the time). This kind of app will allow them to tinker and mess around more,  even when they’re not at the computer.

If I have time, I’ll also post about a similar course I run with media students at the University of Cape Town, where the focus is on webmaking for journalists.

Workshop with David Buckingham – Media Education, digital literacy and young people

Professor David Buckingham will be a visiting Andrew W. Mellon Scholar at the CFMS for the most of August. David is a leading researcher on children’s and young people’s interactions with electronic media, and on media literacy education.

Media education, digital literacies and young people

August 3 9-4pm

Venue: TB Davie Seminar Room, Postgraduate Centre, Otto Beit Bldg, Upper campus.


South Africa has had its share of panics about young people and digital media – most recently by placing age restrictions on Brett Murray’s controversial portrait of Jacob Zuma, The Spear of the Nation, while scandals involving abusive uses of mobile media have contributed to calls for cellphone bans in schools. At the same time there’s a belief that new technologies will allow young people to bypass the massive shortcomings of the educational system or that disgruntled young people will use new technologies to express themselves and transform their societies through civic action. This workshop will be a great opportunity to open a broader discussion about digital literacy and media education in South Africa, at what seems a key moment, when South Africa has more cell phones than people, and when rapid adoption of social media is redefining ‘private’ and ‘public’ and challenging the ways local broadcasters, politicians, educators and researchers engage with young people.
This workshop aims to develop a more nuanced view of young people’s relationships to digital media and technologies by addressing the following issues:

  • The diversity of technologies in use, and their relationship to different social contexts
  • The variety of ways in which young people are introduced to technology use at home, school and university,
  • What digital media means from young people’s perspectives, and distinctive appropriations in peer and interest groups
  • How distinctions in access to technology contribute to young people’s experiences of growing up in a highly unequal society.
  • How the rise of user generated content and social media affects the practices and mandate of teachers, public broadcasters and community media catering for young people,
  • The challenges of multimodal and networked communication to traditional print-centred curricula, and
  • How young people’s evolving practices and use of new media genres challenge existing research methods.

We hope to create a dialogue which will allow researchers and teachers to address the meaning of media literacy in relation to the violence, commodification, inequalities and surveillance young people live with, but also to account the new forms of connectedness, the pursuit of fantasy, intimacy and play, and the shifting possibilities emerging as young people engage with and imagine the world.

Here is a full programme for the day.

Here is a map of upper campus to help you find  the venue. Otto Beit building is C7 on the map.

Grand Theft South Africa? Local game literacies

”]GTA meets ZA in the imaginations of SA's young suburbanites

Here’s the abstract of a paper Nicci Pallitt and I just had accepted by the journal Language & Education:

‘Grand Theft South Africa’: Games, literacy and inequality in consumer childhoods

By Marion Walton and Nicola Pallitt

Discussions of ‘game literacy’ focus on the informal learning and literacies associated with games but seldom address  the diversity in young people’s gaming practices, and the highly differentiated technologies of digital gaming in use.  We use available survey data to show how, in South Africa, income inequalities influence consumption patterns, shaping experiences of digital games. Two case studies of young people’s play practices involving digital games in Cape Town suggest the fragmentation and inequalities of contemporary play practices and the need for a more inclusive understanding of digital gaming. Mobile phones offer more accessibility than other digital gaming platforms and local appropriations include display of micro-commodities, concealment of outdated technology, control strategies and deletion of functionality. Digital games articulate between multiple overlapping communicative spaces and hence complex cultural articulations arise when global game narratives are appropriated to make sense of racial otherness, crime and politics in South Africa. Since educational curricula cater for highly fractured publics, we ask whether it is advisable to speak of ‘game literacy’. We suggest the need to validate less strongly mediatised forms of play, and to address diverse identification practices in consumer culture, including prestige and status as well as othering and shame.

Here’s a prepublication version of the full article.

 

Mobile literacies – bridging the gap between phone and book.

South African teens were happy to give their thumbs a rest for a while and take a break between MXit chats to read the m-novel Kontax, on their cellphones. The m-novel (a novel written to be read on a cellphone) meant that there was finally something on their phones that would make their parents smile rather than frown.

The m-novel Kontax was written by Sam Wilson, translated into isiXhosa by Nkululeko Mabandla, and commissioned by the Shuttleworth Foundation’s m4lit (mobiles for literacy) project. The story’s success shows that teens have mastered a whole range of mobile literacies and the m4Lit research shows how wide-ranging these new skills are. Still, teens need better support if they are to make the most of the opportunities of ‘Web2.0’, and benefit from the new phase of social media where people do not only browse the web, but contribute to knowledge and share creative ideas with the world.

Mobile literacies report
Read full report on Mobile Literacies (pdf)

The m4Lit project included a research component which investigated teens’ responses to Kontax and surveyed 61 teens from Langa and Guguletu who all had access to GPRS-enabled phones. Researchers Marion Walton (Centre for Film and Media Studies, University of Cape Town), Ana Deumert (Department of Linguistics, University of Cape Town),  and Steve Vosloo (Shuttleworth Foundation), found that despite regular bad news about South African youth’s poor performance at school and in literacy tests, and despite their ongoing difficulties in accessing computers, teens’ digital literacy is developing rapidly as a result of their passion for internet-enabled cellphones. The success of Kontax suggests that cellphones have significant potential in literacy development and that schools and teachers could benefit by knowing more about teens’ mobile literacies. (Read the full report here.)

When published on MXit, Kontax attracted over 28 000 teen subscribers, suggesting that teens were intrigued by the idea of using their phones to read a story.  An estimated 26% of these interested teens became loyal readers of the Kontax story, a teen mystery which included 21 400-word chapters, written in cliff-hanger-style. Kontax was slightly more popular with female than male teens, and the overwhelming majority of subscribers came from Gauteng (69%) or the Western Cape (16%). We are not sure exactly why the novel was so popular in Gauteng, but we suspect that this reveals the existence of a rural-urban ‘digital divide’ between urban teens who regularly use the internet on their cellphones and rural teens who may not have a modern phone, network access, or money for airtime.

Many South African teens may be more comfortable writing on phones than on paper or computers. The teens from Langa and Guguletu barely used computers for writing, and only 18% had a computer at home. Outside school, teens wrote on a mobile phone (mostly short messages on SMS or MXit), or else, in only a minority of cases, on pen and paper.

Adolescents need to develop self-knowledge and broaden their horizons beyond their immediate family, and teens’ mobile literacies and MXit use are playing an important part in this process. Teens used the internet on their phones to chat on MXit (75% were daily users) because they wanted to deepen their existing friendships with their peers, meet new people outside their immediate surroundings, understand themselves better, and establish new romantic relationships, both online and offline. Because of this emphasis, we weren’t really surprised that none of the teens used MXit to communicate with their parents. Overall teens were quite savvy about using MXit and understood that their adventures in the world of online chatting might have unpleasant and all-to-real consequences. Many teens had made rules for themselves to limit interactions with strangers, to guard their real identity, or to protect their time for schoolwork and household chores.

Still, teens weren’t always successful in managing their phone use, and some teens talked about how, in a contest of ‘Book vs. Phone’, the phone often won hands down. A large majority (76%) reported that they had experienced conflict with their parents because of their cellphone or MXit use, most often because of late nights, neglected schoolwork, or uncompleted household chores.

Mobile literacies (such as ‘txtspk’ or ‘MXit language’) are forms of literacy where South African teens are more expert writers than many of their elders. Overall, teens are using writing to express a youthful, casual, up to date identity and to establish their status and manage relationships in the all-important peer group.

It may surprise parents and teachers to find that teens still value the ability to communicate well and that they take care to hone their writing skills. They enjoy chatting to others who are able to use written language flexibly, responsively and creatively. Teens told us that they needed to learn to spell differently because, when they chat on MXit, speed and responsiveness are of the essence. ‘Txtspk’ deliberately breaks with the spelling conventions that teens have learned in school. It introduces a whole new set of rules for them to learn, and many of them talked about their embarrassment when, as newcomers to MXit, they unwittingly transgressed these new rules. They learned the hard way that they need to pay attention to their writing style or run the risk of ‘being deleted’ or losing friends on MXit.

Beyond MXit, many teens were also actively exploring the web. Their favourite site was Google, many had discovered Facebook, and ‘wap’ media download sites were also popular. Most teens had used the web on both computers and phones, but they were more likely to use their phones for everyday Web use, particularly to access news and Facebook. Beyond this improved accessibility, having a web-enabled phone did not appear to expand the range of daily opportunities for web use for this group.

Some teens had difficulties using websites, preferring to access content on MXit. These teens struggled to find their way around and sign up on the Kontax mobisite. Overall, when we compare them with their wealthier suburban counterparts or to teens in the US or Europe, the  teens from Langa and Guguletu didn’t seem to have as much experience in finding information for school, joining interest groups or publishing their own creative writing, art, video and music. This is partly because it is not possible for teens to publish their own writing or artwork or manage interest-based online communities on MXit. South African teens who learn to use the internet on their phones, who focus on MXit rather than the web, and who don’t have regular access to computers may thus be missing out on some educational and creative opportunities.

Schools could also be making better use of teens’ internet access on their phones and using teens’ enthusiasm for all things mobile to encourage educational uses of the web. Nonetheless, the limitations of mobile access mean that it is still an urgent priority to improve computer access in schools and libraries, particulary in rural areas, and to make broadband internet access more affordable for all South African households.