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Digital learning for 21st century literacy

By Will Sloan

Alireza Sadeghian

Former chair of computer science Alireza Sadeghian leads the Challenge Accepted workshops at the SLC’s Launch Zone. Photo by Clifton Li.

“When I did my first lecture,” said Alireza Sadeghian, former Ryerson chair of computer science and leader of the Challenge Accepted workshops, “I asked students what the meaning of literacy is.

“They replied: the ability to write and read. And I told them, ‘That’s the 20th century; what’s the 21st century’s definition of literacy? To us in the 21st century, you need to be able to code.”

Now he’s bringing students up to speed with Challenge Accepted, a free, beginner-focused coding workshop held at the Launch Zone in the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, with funding from the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Sadeghian offers interested participants the basics in computer programming. The workshops are open to individuals from any academic background, with an emphasis on those outside the computer and engineering disciplines with little or no coding background.

“Any place that you go, they have coders,” said Sadeghian. “If you go to the government, insurance companies, banks, the police, hospitals – they have coders. We’re surrounded by smart computing devices, and we need to be able to write programs for them.”

Though the students are inexperienced, they tend to learn quickly, with immediate results: by the end of each three-hour workshop, students will have created a new app. “For their first app, they made a text-to-speech app,” said Sadeghian. “The second app they made was the Pac-Man game.

“I always ask them to think about new topics that we are about to introduce, because I want them to understand that they have the ability to do it on their own. They have enough background that after only four lectures, they could code.”

For students, one of the program’s biggest appeals has been its accessibility. “In the workshops, I’ve found it very easy to pick up,” said student Jessica Machado. “It’s very intuitive. … I’ve never really enjoyed coding – I’ve always thought it was overwhelming and intimidating – but this is a good opportunity to be introduced to it in a way that’s practical.”

“The whole world is becoming digital now, and coding is a basic thing that everybody is going to have to learn,” added student Natasha Mawji. “With the apps, we’re not just sitting in lecture – we’re actually doing something, and we get actual results at the end of class.”

Sadeghian hopes to make coding a permanent part of the Ryerson experience. “We have a dream that every student who graduates from Ryerson should be able to code,” he said. “If that objective can be met, then we’ll be many steps ahead of everyone else in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Applications for the August workshops open today (July 17) and close Monday, July 27. To apply for one of the 30 spots, go to