My year as a Praxis Member started off much like the first episode of any season of the Great British Bakeoff (GBBO)—a group of bright-eyed and slightly nervous hopefuls gathered in our version of the iconic white tent, the Scholars’ Lab Fellows Lounge. Containing comfy chairs, smiling Scholars’ Lab members, and images of beloved pets scattered across the windows, the Lounge promised a space of learning as cozy and supportive as the tent. Yet the tent of GBBO is not only a site for quaint bonding and puns about baked goods, it is also a site for intense growth, curiosity, and challenge.
As part of our curriculum this year for Praxis, we spend one hour each week in Code Lab with our teacher/shepherd Shane Lin. This forms part of our fall curriculum so as to best equip us to develop our Praxis project in the spring. Weekly readings, assignments, and lessons provide basic knowledge and familiarity with the foundations of coding, such as how to program using Python and terminal. Learning to code has reminded me of my early days of learning to cook and bake: moments of confusion followed by more moments of confusion followed sometimes(!) by moments of triumph that make you forget all the previous moments and excited to try the next new recipe. For this reason, I will outline my coding journey alongside gifs of GBBO and my favorite contestant and winner, our British queen Nadiya Hussain.
A typical day of Code Lab commences with optimism and encouragement from our teacher/judge/cheerleader Shane and SLab co. With the prior week’s homework completed and behind us, we Praxis Cohort members enter the new week on a wave of enthusiasm and renewed confidence.
Shane explains the concept of the day and walks us through the lesson. I am slightly confused, but hey he made it look so easy! I’m sure I could do that on my own! I can code!
The lesson has ended and Shane gives the cohort our coding homework for the following week. We try to ignore how gleeful he appears to be about the homework as he reminds us that we can seek his help at any time, and shows us more pictures Hazel and other dogs to raise morale.
The cohort assembles to tackle the coding homework together. Our brains hurt a bit, but we are feeling strong.
First part of the assignment—aka the easiest part of the assignment in which I get the sense that maybe I did properly absorb some of Shane’s lesson…but perhaps not all of it thoroughly? But enough for now and that will do.
Second part of the assignment—things are starting to look a little dubious. But maybe if I keep looking at my code in Visual Studio Code something positive and correct will be generated. I turn to the cohort to see if they are having trouble too, and with bolstered confidence and a sense of solidarity make it through.
Third and final part of the assignment—a seemingly simple expansion upon the prior questions prompts me to question if I comprehended the lesson at all. Well, for now let’s try throwing some things at the terminal I think I’ve learned and see what happens.
This is quickly followed by a moment of humility, and a series of questions to Shane in which I attempt to properly use the language that he has patiently taught us over the past couple weeks to formulate my question.
But wait! At just the moment I thought I surely could not figure out the assignment despite Shane’s useful lesson notes, guiding questions, and encouragements: victory! The code runs with the expected result! I can code!
Onto next week.
The challenges of GBBO are designed to test the fundamental baking skills of the contestants, varying from perfecting recipes familiar to amateur bakers to asking them to apply familiar concepts to unfamiliar bakes. While I began Code Lab with what felt like zero knowledge of coding, I now feel equipped to handle basic tasks or at least know where to begin and how to discuss a new problem. As much of graduate schooling relies on deeper specialization and refining expertise, I have found it rather refreshing to once again enter a space where I am not only a novice but can revel in this status and in fact form a community based upon this shared learning experience—hi Chloe, Janet, Connor, Natasha! It has also taught me a few lessons beyond the lesson material that I will take into my other work: to overcome moments of discomfort, value collaboration, and be curious about alternate solutions. More than anything, it has made me think that I may just know how to code after all.