9 month old Amy smiling and crawling on a wooden deck.
9 month old Amy smiling and crawling on a wooden deck.
9 months old and zippy. Credit: Judy Jensen.

I often have vidid memories of my childhood. I remember when I was 8 or 9, playing with the newly born surprise kittens of our aging, unexpectedly fertile cat Snickers. My mom had told us that we could only keep one, and so my brother and I erected an elaborate obstacle course to see which one was the most cunning, smart, and strong. Donatello, the runt, lost all of the contests; Leonardo won the sprint and Raphael won the maze, but Michelangelo, he won both the climbing test and the endurance challenge, which involved hanging from a cliff molded from…


A collage of all 18 chapters of the book, showing 90,000 words and dozens of images, arranged in a row with varying height columns of text.
A collage of all 18 chapters of the book, showing 90,000 words and dozens of images, arranged in a row with varying height columns of text.
The book I wrote, in pixel form. Credit: Amy J. Ko

This post describes my writing process for the book I just published online, Foundations of Information. If you’d just like to read the book, it’s free and online: just click the link above and start reading. (It’s about 90,000 words as of this writing, similar to a 200-page print book). Read it, share it, use it in your own teaching, and see how I use it in my course INFO 200 Intellectual Foundations of Information. If you’d like to learn more about why and how I wrote it, read on.

I am no expert in information. My background is in…


A three stick figures joyfully dancing on three grey face coverings
A three stick figures joyfully dancing on three grey face coverings
A year of no masking. (Yes, that is a pun). Credit: Amy J. Ko

It’s international trans day of visibility today. In one way, the day is about refusing to hide, helping the world accept that trans people do exist, and that we’re human like everyone else. In another way, it’s a day about celebrating trans joy, in contrast to the more mournful trans day of remembrance, in which we remember all of trans people murdered. Of course, this year of pandemic has been a hard year to have joy: for me, it’s been full of crisis, burnout, residual trauma, depression, grief, fear, and anger. And it’s been a year of conservative assault on…


A screenshot of the Pathable platform landing page, showing the SIGSE 2021 logo.
A screenshot of the Pathable platform landing page, showing the SIGSE 2021 logo.
The header of the virtual conference website. Credit: Amy J. Ko

A year ago, I was on a train, traveling to Portland, Oregon, wearing a very uncomfortable N95 mask. The train car was mostly empty; out of the corner of my eye, I could see the couple on the other side of the train. They peered at me every once in a while, maybe because of the mask, maybe because of my loud typing, or maybe because of my vaguely non-passing, recently out trans face and body. Little had shut down for COVID-19 yet, but most of my students, collaborators, and colleagues had canceled their trip to SIGCSE 2020. Many had…


A photograph of the Data Feminism jacket cover, showing the title “Data Feminism”, authors Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein, and a backdrop of hundreds of data visualizations.
A photograph of the Data Feminism jacket cover, showing the title “Data Feminism”, authors Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren F. Klein, and a backdrop of hundreds of data visualizations.
Not too many books about oppression have this exciting a cover. Credit: Amy J. Ko

When I first learned to code in middle school in the 1990's, data was the last thing on my mind. Code, for me, was about experiences: games, animations, and interactive stories, guided by hidden logic, to entertain my friends and I between classes or on the bus ride home. While all of these things had data, whether game art my friends had made in Microsoft Paint, or illustrations I’d painstakingly plotted pixel by pixel on my TI-82, or the dialog of my fan fiction text adventures, none of them felt like data. They were content that I’d created to express…


A screen shot of Zoom, showing Amy’s screen in the top left and several gray rectangles with student names like “student1”, “student2”, and “student3”.
A screen shot of Zoom, showing Amy’s screen in the top left and several gray rectangles with student names like “student1”, “student2”, and “student3”.
The modern pandemic classroom. Credit: Amy J. Ko

This is superfluous and hyperbolic rant about Zoom and other video chat software used for teaching. If you’re in to that kind of thing, read on, and commiserate with me! If not, go read about more important things, like the abysmal conditions in which U.S. K-12 educators are teaching during this pandemic, and why its on all of us to fix them.

Prior to this academic year, the only experience I had with online courses was a developmental psychology course I took in college in 2001. My wife and I were new parents, and the online option was a godsend…


Women holding a sign that says “I just had sexism”
Women holding a sign that says “I just had sexism”
Yay, feminist puns! Credit: Claudio Schwarz

Before I came out as transgender in 2019, sexism was of my biggest fears about living as a woman. I’d benefited from some kinds of male privilege up until then: people listened to me when I spoke; when I was assertive, they usually read it as confidence and authority; people rarely questioned my authority or expertise. Being treated as a man-made life easier in these ways (and of course, as a trans woman, much harder in others).

In contrast, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, I saw how poorly women were treated by my male classmates. Women were constantly interrupted. When…


A photograph of a crumbling, dirty school hallway of a school in New Jersey.
A photograph of a crumbling, dirty school hallway of a school in New Jersey.
A crumbling New Jersey school, mirroring our crumbling future. Credit: NJEA

For most of my childhood, my mom was a primary school teacher. She taught second grade for several years while we lived in Eastern Oregon in a rural Ontario, just outside Boise, Idaho. It was a diverse community, with Japanese immigrants who had been interned, Basque immigrants who had been sheep herders, Mexican immigrants supporting farms, and of course White farmers and ranchers. …


A blocky grey robot stands in front of a desk an inelegantly operates a mouse and keyboard.
A blocky grey robot stands in front of a desk an inelegantly operates a mouse and keyboard.
Yes, aging transfeminine robots have wiry, sparse hair and an inability to skillfully operate mice and keyboards. Credit: Amy J. Ko

This year has been devastating in so many ways to so many people. Death, chronic illness, grief, depression, stress, and anxiety are everywhere. In my relatively privileged bubble, with a stable income, a home, no young children to care for, and a job I can do from home, the worst of my past year has been manageable: I have lots of practice with depression, despair, and isolation, and know how to overcome them with some patience and self care. That’s let me focus on caring for family, faculty, staff, and students without the same resources or resilience.

But when I…


A photograph of the book over showing a robotic butterfly and the book title, blurred in the background.
A photograph of the book over showing a robotic butterfly and the book title, blurred in the background.
282 pages of CS education research and practice, alphabetized.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but teaching computer science is hard. Code can be unforgiving; students find their ways into dark corners of languages and tools, and if teachers don’t know how to help students out of them, students might lose faith that they can learn CS, and lose faith that teachers can help them. Engaging students in making anything remotely interesting can be challenging in all but the most carefully controlled settings, and even then, teachers need a rich toolbox of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) for managing the inevitable complexity of student identities, interests, and strategies. …

Amy J. Ko

Professor of programming + learning + design + justice at the University of Washington Information School. Trans; she/her. #BlackLivesMatter.

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