Learning to program realities and identities: diffractions of rendering technical in undergraduate computer science education
Samantha Breslin (Memorial University of Newfoundland)
Paper short abstract:
This paper explores how student subjectivities and "reality" are simultaneously rendered technical, rendered natural, and rendered in terms of binary gender categories, as undergraduate computer science students learn to program and make software.
Paper long abstract:
"I hope this kind of logic is natural to you now" a professor commented to students as he was reviewing a particular programming method. This paper explores the shaping of computer science student subjectivities as these students learn to program and make software. Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in an undergraduate computer science program in Singapore during the 2013-2014 academic year, I consider how students learn practices of "rendering technical" and "rendering natural": students learn how to represent and translate "reality" into models, algorithms, and code. At the same time, the rules of writing programs are presented as an inherent part of how computers work and their "logic" as based in the natural evolution of human thought and practice. I also explore how these renderings diffract. While students are told that they should learn to think critically, critical judgment as it is figured in computer science relies on constructing reality such that truth, accuracy, and efficiency, among other forms of measurement, can be reliably known, assessed, and judged. As students learn to judge code, they also learn to judge themselves and one another according to technical criteria. Moreover, both student subjectivities and computer science knowledges and practices are rendered in terms of binary gender categories. Gender binaries are, in turn, are (re)produced and naturalized in and by teaching examples, computer science concepts, and other technical actors. I thus show how students' lives and selves are "torqued" as they learn computer science and to render reality technical.
Software sorted subjectivities