CodeWork Collaborative Year-End Report for the Institute of Advanced Study

University of Minnesota Codework Collaborative


How can we value both algorithmic (coding) and diverse academic disciplinary perspectives, and bring them in closer conversation with each other? This was the CodeWork Collaborative’s foundational question, which we pursued through a number of events focused on different aspects of computer code and how it affects our lives, work, and scholarship. The collaborative’s aim was to engage both the University of Minnesota community, as well as the broader Twin Cities civic tech community and scholars from other higher educational institutions. We explored a deliberately diverse range of event formats, including book clubs, panel discussions, interviews, and a hackathon/unconference. As much as was feasible, we tried to enact a geographically agnostic approach to inclusion in our events: we leveraged Google Hangouts to make our panel discussions and interviews accessible to both in-person and virtual audiences, and to be able to expand the reach of our discussions to include scholars from across the country. More information about CodeWork can be found on our GitHub page:

Goals and outcomes


  • Host events that invite participation from people who think “algorithmically” and people who think from various humanistic perspectives (rhetorical, ethical, and more)
  • Create spaces to foster understanding and collaboration between developer and academic communities, in hopes of building bridges as well as seeing how those lines can be artificially drawn
  • Conduct an informal and initial investigation as to the feasibility of a Digital Studies program at the University of Minnesota


  • Stronger connections to the Twin Cities civic tech community–with many participants impressed that we “are facilitating these kinds of conversations” at the University.
  • A better understanding of the idiosyncrasies of Digital Studies programs at several of our peer institutions, and a greater appreciation of what we might need to do to examine our strengths at the U of M and galvanize support for this kind of curricular initiative
  • A new appreciation for how difficult it can be to find shared language between algorithmic and disciplinary perspectives. Often, we had a hard time finding the right words to describe our events and “sell” them to participants. It’s humbling to discover just how little conversation seems to be going on in the spaces we were interested in. On the other hand, heartening to find at least some key pockets of people who came out of the woodwork and were interested to talk in the overlap of algorithmic and other disciplinary work.

List of CodeWork activities

Community-Involvement Events

(02/26/2015) CodeWork/Open Twin Cities February Book Club: This was a book club co-hosted with the Open Twin Cities group, a local affiliate of the Code for America organization. We tackled Julian Assange’s recent book, When Google Met Wikileaks, featuring an interview transcript of Assange’s 2011 meeting with Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.

(03/31/2015) Coffee and Code with CodeWork & GiTMSP: This event was a coffee & coding session co-hosted with the Girls in Tech MSP. Participants brought their computers and any projects they were working on for a casual evening with light refreshments provided by CodeWork. The event drew a diverse group of women–including some high school girls who traveled up with a teacher from the Rochester area!

Panel Events

(10/20/2014) Ethics of Code-Work - Parsing Ethical Responsibilities: This event featured a moderated discussion between Dr. Phillip Barry (Computer Science, University of Minnesota) and Dr. James Brown, Jr. (English Studies and Rhetoric, Rutgers-Camden). The two discussed their own approaches to understanding the ethics of software use and production, as well as the university’s role in shaping such dynamics. The event took place live in Walter Library with a physical and virtual audience via Google Hangout. See the event page for more details and a recorded video of the event:

(04/15/2015) The Rhetorics of Code-Work and Programming as Writing: This event featured a moderated discussion between Dr. Krista Kennedy (Composition and Cultural Rhetorics, Syracuse University), Dr. Cristina Lopes (Information Science, University of California-Irvine), and Dr. Annette Vee (English and Composition Studies, University of Pittsburgh). The three discussed their own approaches to understanding programming as an inscription practice, as well as the recent surge in marking coding as the next mass literacy. The event took place live in Walter Library with the panel attending entirely virtually, and a physical and virtual audience supported by Google Hangout. See the event page for more details and a recorded video of the event:

IAS Third Thursday Event

(02/19/2015) Gender, Identity, and Video Games: A discussion about the structural inequalities and prejudices present within the video games culture and industry from a variety of viewpoints. The event explored the ways underrepresented genders and races historically have been treated in technological sectors and how they are specifically manifested in video game culture. Scholars, students, and members of the broader community in the Twin Cities were invited to participate. At the beginning of the event, attendees were able to participate in a social exhibition of games made by students and local developers. (Co-sponsored event from the Institute for Advanced Study, with additional co-sponsorship from Glitch Gaming and DASH at the University of Minnesota Libraries.)

CodeWork Interviews

(June 15, 2015) Interview with New Media Artist Daniel Temkin on Esolangs:

(Jun 30, 2015) Interview with Digital Rhetorician Dr. Estee Beck on Algorithms and Surveillance:

CodeWork Unconference + Hackathon

The CodeWork Unconference brought together U of M and Twin Cities community members to talk about code and the ways it shapes our lives, work, and scholarship. Attendees were given autonomy and encouragement to propose their own sessions, and a wealth of diverse topics emerged–ranging from privacy and personal liberties, to doing data science with Python, to effective community organizing and collaboration with coding tools. Participants self-organized into groups throughout the day for several rounds of discussion, co-learning, and collaborative problem-solving. The event took place in the Northrop Crosby Seminar Room, and session notes can be found on the CodeWork GitHub page:

Discussions with Digital Studies Program Directors

We conducted 3 interview sessions with three prominant multi-disciplinary programs and tracks related to new fields such as Digital Studies. We interviewed the three following scholars from different major universities, who have played integral roles in developing Digital Studies educational pathways: