annette's bookcase

My research interests are clustered around issues of technology and literacy, with a special emphasis on computer code as a kind of writing. Current trends in new media literacies are enabled by the code running the programs supporting them; while I teach with, pay close attention to, and publish on these exciting sites of digital composition, my primary research takes a broader view on the technological, legal, and social factors that shape these digital composition environments.

on programming and literacy

My book project,Coding Literacy: How Computer Programming is Changing the Terms of Writing, examines the talk about computer programming as a literacy from the historical and social perspective of literacy studies. This perspective, I argue, helps us understand the current popularization of computer programming as well as changing conditions of literacy more generally.

The utility and ubiquity of software has made computer programming relevant not only to computer science, engineering and physics, but also economics, journalism and literary studies. As computer programming branches out from computer science, it begins to look less like a specialized skill and more like a generalized skill: it begins to look more like literacy.  My book project looks at ways computer programming has been called "literacy," how it operates like literacy, and how it appears to be taking a similar historical trajectory as literacy. Framing the literacy of writing computer code with the knowledge we have about the history and the rich set of practices surrounding textual literacy allows us to better understand the current practices and trends in code writing. These trends, in turn, determine the shape of our digital composition environments. We will need to understand the intersection between programming and literacy better in a future of communication where programming is an infrastructural skill in more knowledge domains. The main points of the book are summarized in my 2013 Literacy in Composition Studies article, "Understanding Computer Programming as a Literacy."

on code in the law

My interest in programming as a literacy and the circulation of computer code led me to a branch of research on how code was treated in the law. In particular, I was interested in the ways that patent law locked down algorithms as propietary, meaning that regular programmers could accidentally violate patent law just through writing code. I've published on this topic in several journals. My article on the treatment of code in US law as text, speech or machine is available online at the journal Computational Culture. My article, "Carving up the Commons: How Software Patents are Impacting our Digital Composition Environments," was published in Computers and Composition. You can download a preprint version here [doc].

future research projects

Framing computer programming as part of literacy, I am eager to explore the various contexts in which it is acquired. Much research is done on how students learn programming within formal, computer science - based education. However, if programming is part of literacy, it cannot be “owned” or completely subsumed under the field of computer science. In support of this idea, there is copious evidence of individuals learning programming outside of formal contexts. In particular, many of my interviewees from my dissertation research have described the way they “picked up” programming through the World Wide Web or through open source software development. My next major research project will explore these new, informal contexts for programming-learning. This project could provide concrete contributions to programming pedagogy as well as a greater understanding of the current, often online, contexts for literacy-learning.

For more details about my current and future research, you can see my CV, or contact me at