Coding the Humanities




Teachers teach, students study. But teachers also learn, and students teach, too. Still, a lot of people see a classroom as a teacher with a group of students. What if we viewed this differently? Coding the Humanities is a collective of teachers, students and researchers who see the classroom as a group of potential teachers. We build a set of teaching practices and tools that leverages existing knowledge and resources. We change the way we see learning – by implementing a coding mindset in every classroom.

From Content to Context

Everybody possesses knowledge or a skill that they could share with others. But, in too many classrooms – both online and offline – what students know is mostly left out. Coding the Humanities creates a classroom that offers context to everybody’s knowledge and reduces the need for more or new content, by leveraging the knowledge that’s already there.

The Alternative Classroom

Imagine two classrooms. In the first, you see a teacher who teaches a group of students. The student’s contribution is only minimal. In the second classroom, you see a group of people sharing what they know with each other. Yet, many traditional classrooms – and even many online learning spaces – are modelled after the first classroom. Only the second classroom, however, do learners actively engage with and share their personal learning paths.

The Coding the Humanities pilot set out to create an alternative classroom where knowledge is contributed and shared by everyone, but where learners simultaneously focus on their own, personal learning goals.

Be Lazy, Impatient and Bold

In May 2013, Coding the Humanities organised a one-month coding boot camp for humanities students. We created a space where students were encouraged to shape their own learning paths. Students were encouraged adopt a programmer’s mindset, which meant:

  • Be lazy. Use the work of others
  • Be impatient. Make something before you know it
  • Be bold. Boast and share every step take

Out of everyone and everything, from teachers, to students, to guest lecturers, most knowledge came from Google. Almost anything students needed to know, they found online. It turned out there was no need for more content. There was a need to structure, track and share all the things that they found.

From Context to Curation

Today, almost anything you want to learn is accessible online. Anyone who wants to learn, can use what’s already there. Coding the Humanities creates a tool that helps people structure, track and share what they want to learn.

Use + Make + Share = Curation

Back in the day, when you wanted to learn linguistics from Umberto Eco, you had to travel to Bologna. Today, you can do this from behind a computer, anywhere you want, with an internet connection.

Almost anything people may want to learn, exists online somewhere. Instead of creating every learning resource anew:

  • Use what’s already there
  • Make meaningful packets of information
  • And share them with people who want to learn

Coding the Humanities set out to a tool that helps you organize learning resources and create a narrative towards a specific learning goal, that you can share with others.

Learn, Teach, Repeat

The first step towards this tool was a paper prototype that was made by the students. They designed a system using index cards that helped them structure series of learning resources into meaningful paths.

Creating a collection of learning resources is a process of learning. Sharing this collection with peers is an act of teaching. The first desktop prototype encourages people to go back and forth between these two modes: you learn, you teach and you repeat.

From Curation to Facilitation

There are many tools that exist to facilitate curation, such as Twitter or Evernote. And there are many tools that facilitate education, such as MOOCs. Coding the Humanities builds a tool that facilitates education through curation.

Different Tools for Different Means

Students use all kinds of tools to store resources. Teachers use all kinds of tools to share resources. Only a few of these tools are designed to facilitate learning. In the autumn of 2015, we interviewed nine Coding the Humanities students about the way they study and we could describe the following:

  • Learning is telling a story
  • You learn best with a clear and personal goal in mind
  • Students share little of what they learn or make
  • And they are often unaware of the way they learn

We mapped the students learning habits and set out to create a tool that can support and enrich students’ learning processes.

Organise, Track and Share the Learning Process

Bringing together early prototypes, classroom experience and research, the environment – codesigned with Lifely – became an online space where the boundary between students and teachers is continually questioned and everybody can organise, track and share their learning efforts through curation. The tool embodies a coding mindset and helps you to steal, make and share over and over again.

On the platform, people can:

  • Create, curate and alter hand-picked collections of resources on a specific topic and create a personal learning trajectory
  • Gather specific feedback on early drafts of your work and the work of your peers
  • See what others are doing and have done before you – in your class, in parallel classes and classes of the years before you

But Coding the Humanities isn’t just a tool – it embodies the further development of a teaching practice that leverages the knowledge and information that exists around us. We believe in a future of shared learning – inside and outside of universities – and knowledge institutions are here to further shape this future of learning.


Coding the Humanities is a collective of researchers, students, developers and private partners who builds a set of teaching practices and tools that make education accessible, shared and usable again. Read more about who they are and what they do below:


In March 2013, the idea for Coding the Humanities was born in Wassenaar, The Netherlands, during a two-day workshop, organized by NIAS, on public and private initiatives in the Digital Humanities.

Here, Marijn Koolen and Jan Hein Hoogstad, at the time both assistant professor at the University of Amsterdam, formed their first ideas for Coding the Humanities – a program that would teach humanities students how to code their own tools for doing research, learning from and working with various private partners in the technology and cultural industry.

This pilot turned into a successful set of BA, MA and staff courses, a set of teaching practices and the development of a prototype of a tool that makes education accessible, shared and usable again by leveraging students’ knowledge, by encouraging students to share what they learn and learn from what other students shared, and by involving students in the creation of (personalized) course curriculums.