Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Coding, Social Science, and Activism

This past weekend I participated in the OccupyResearch "Hackathon" at the MIT Media Lab.  It was part of a nation-wide effort with other groups working in LA, NY, DC and Oakland.  People with all ranges of computer skills worked on analyzing and visualizing data about and for the Occupy movement.

It was a mixed crowd.  Women and men (yes, more of one than the other -- one of our jobs is to change that).  Students and professionals. There was a sociology student from U Mass, computer science undergrad from MIT, grad students in art and comparative media and cinema studies and computer science and physics.  Some participants did web programming, others built data bases for the Occupy Research General Survey, ran statistical analyses or used free open source tools (such as Many Eyes, a tool you should try out) to create cool visualizations.

I became further convinced that we need to teach more in the way of computer skills in the social sciences, whether our students' trajectories are social science, activism, public service, or private sector.  And this resonates with a story in today's New York Times about free, online tools for learning how to code.  They mention organizations like Girls Develop It and San Francisco based Women Who Code that you might want to check out.  I've been playing around with Code Academy for the past few months, learning how to code in Javascript.  It's probably the most painless and stress-free bit of computer learning I've ever done.  These tools will not turn you into a Apple engineer over night, but they are great ways to crack open the door, see what "coding" is all about, exercise a new mental muscle, and, potentially, lead you to new endeavors.

A very major track in the future of both social science and social activism is going to be in the areas of "big data" and social media and open-source.  Now is the time to get in on the ground floor.

No comments:

Post a Comment