Computational Thinking
and Creative Practice

Module Description

This module, led by Don Sinclair, introduces students to computational thinking, which is essential to describing, interpreting, and creating digital media and process-based reactive systems that are fundamental to mobile applications, games, networked media and interactive artworks.

You will investigate fundamental concepts and structures of code by learning a bit of programming, describing and interpreting the everyday world with a coding lens, and investigating contemporary digital art works. Through participation in online group activities, you will share your work with your peers, and interact with thought provoking art works. Hands-on activities that use Processing, an open source programming language, and will help you learn programming fundamentals with an emphasis on the visual supported by an online community.

Module Level: Introductory - requires no prior knowledge.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module students will be able to:

  • describe and use computational thinking concepts to write descriptions and interpretations of digital media systems;
  • interweave writing/story/narrative creatively with code using hands-on exercises;
  • develop a basic understanding of Processing, demonstrating and expanding on fundamental software concepts.
Suggested Learning Activities and Assignments

Neat little something: After completing an introduction to Processing, students will create a sketch that demonstrates their initial explorations with this creative coding language.

Procedural description: Using a computational thinking approach, students will students will develop an idea for a process, experience, situation or event that is well suited to being described procedurally then implement its structure in code.

Integrating ideas in code: Students will take two or three ideas from Processing examples and integrate them into their own unique creation that investigates abstraction.

Description and interpretation of code: After choosing one of the works shared in Integrating ideas in code, students will insert comments in the code that describe the work from a procedural perspective. Based on the program’s visual output, students will provide two potential interpretations of the work.

Digital art though a computational thinking lens: After examining a digital art work on the web, students will write a procedural description of the work noting what can (front end) and can’t (back end) be seen. To complement the description, students will provide an interpretation of the work from the perspective of a viewer/participant.

Creating in layers with code: In this summative project, students employ procedural methods to develop a narrative that is realized through code. The result of running the code is an abstract interpretation of that narrative. Code and output are on equal ground being read in parallel.

  • all work is shared in small peer groups through The Gallery.


Don Sinclair is a media artist and professor with a background in math, music and computer science at York University. He co-founded the Digital Media program and acts as coordinator. Digital Media students study hands-on digital art making alongside courses in math, computer science, and science and technology studies. Don has used electronic instructional materials since 1990 when he would pass around floppy disks containing HyperCard stacks to his students. Since that time, he has used web-based materials in all of his courses. In 2005 he created the learning module, “The database as a vehicle for re-conceiving place through the new media art interface”, for the course Arts and Ideas. In 2011, he joined a team of researchers at York, headed by Dr. Gail Mitchell to create Daagu, an online learning system based on complexity thinking and concept-based pedagogy.