Our ongoing coding project, RikersBot, was featured in Fast Company.
RikersBot is a coding and digital storytelling project created Group for the Experimental Methods in the Humanities and Center for Justice. The project brings Columbia students and Rikers students together to learn coding by creating an Twitter Bot and write stories be shared via the Twitter Bot. We are currently in our second cycle of the project, with future iterations planned for each semester.
How Rikers Students and Columbia Students Built a Twitter Bot – with no Internet
By Steven Melendez
“A good portion of the code that made it into the bot was written in that class,” says Dennis Tenen, a software engineer turned English professor and one of the course instructors.
Since Rikers doesn’t provide Internet access to inmates, the instructors couldn’t stick to a standard coding school curriculum. The class relied a lot more on physical materials than most introductory programming classes. For example, instructors brought in printed tweets—including tweets by musicians Drake and Meek Mill, and from President Obama and the New York City Department of Correction—for students to study before they wrote their own. And with fewer computers than students, the classes included physical demonstrations of programming tasks, like looping and sorting papers.
“Everybody kind of gets into it, and really what they’re learning is the basics of algorithmic thinking and the basics of control structure,” says Tenen.
The goal wasn’t to turn the students into professional-grade programmers in just a few classes, Tenen emphasizes, but to introduce them to the basics of programming and reasoning about algorithms and code.
“It’s really to give people a taste, to get people excited about coding, in hopes that when they come out, they continue,” says Tenen.
Each member of the class also got a title, like developer or editor, that they’d be able to use on a job or school application, he says. And when they did sit down at the computer, Tenen says the Rikers inmates were often more willing to experiment than the slightly older Columbia students.
“In many ways, they seemed like kids that were just very eager to learn to put into this system where their voices weren’t being heard,” says Thomas Brown III, a Columbia senior who participated in the class.
The full article in Fast Company can be seen HERE.