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«Creativity Support for Computational Literature By Daniel C. Howe A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree ...»

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Increasingly, video games are being investigated for their instructional applications. Dickey (2005), Gee (2003), Shaffer, Squire, Halverson, and Gee (2005) and Shaffer (2006), among others, have all suggested that video games are environments that allow for “thickly authentic” (Shaffer & Resnick, 1999) learning, or learning that enables students to acquire knowledge that is personally meaningful, has real-world application, and that is associated with practice, rather than rote memorization... Games may mend what Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) refer to as the “breach between learning and use” and, through practice and reflection, enable learners to make the connection “knowing what” and “knowing how”.

A subset of these projects focus on game creation which (implicitly or explicitly) leverages constructionist theories, e.g., Hands, ToonTalk, Klik’N Play, StarLogo TNG, and Scratch. Similarly, a number of gaming environments have included programming as a central element of the play experience. The Alice45 project at CMU, for one, has shown notable results with this approach, especially regarding underrepresented populations, e.g., the poor, females, artistic and musically-oriented children, etc. [Kelleher and Pausch 2005] CMU’s Alice is a 3D programming environment that facilitates the creation of animations for storytelling, interactive games, and web videos. Alice is a freely available teaching tool intended as a student’s first exposure to object-oriented programming. It attempts to allow students to learn fundamental programming concepts in the context of STEM refers to “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics”. The STEM Education Coalition works to support STEM programs for teachers and students at the U. S.

Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other agencies that offer STEM related programs. See http://www.stemedcoalition.org/.

See http://www.alice.org/.

creating animated movies and simple video games. In Alice, 3-D objects (e.g., people, animals, and vehicles) populate a virtual world and students create a program to animate the objects. In Alice’s interactive interface, students drag and drop graphic tiles to create a program, with instructions corresponding to standard statements in a production-oriented programming language like Java, C++, or C#.

Figure 11: The Alice programming interface Alice allows students to visualize how their animated programs run, enabling them to more easily understand the relationship between programming statements and the behavior of objects in their animation. By manipulating the objects in their virtual world, it is hoped that students gain experience with the programming constructs typically taught in an introductory programming course.

A related project is Kelleher’s “Storytelling Alice”,46 which attempts specifically to attract girls to programming and computer science. Kelleher et al. [2007] describes

Storytelling Alice as:

[a] programming environment that gives middle school girls a positive first experience with computer programming. Rather than presenting programming as an end in itself, Storytelling Alice presents programming as a means to the end of storytelling, a motivating activity for a broad spectrum of middle school girls. The development of Storytelling Alice was informed by formative user testing with more than 250 middle school aged girls. To determine girls’ storytelling needs Storytelling Alice includes high-level animations that enable social interaction between characters, a gallery of 3D objects designed to spark story ideas, and a story-based tutorial presented using Stencils, a new tutorial interaction technique.

The RAPUNSEL47 project takes a somewhat similar approach, attempting to teach programming concepts to underprivileged populations via a social gaming environment. The

project is described as:

a large multi-disciplinary collaboration aimed at designing and implementing an experimental game prototype to promote interest and competence in computer programming among middle-school aged girls, including girls from disadvantaged home environments. This three-year project includes a variety of interlinked components: engineering, pedagogy, interface, graphics, networking and more… In the current iteration of the game, each player logs onto and is assigned a home environment which houses a central character.

Players are supposed to ‘teach’ these characters to move, dance, and behave in a variety of ways by programming them in a simplified variant of the Java language. In one scenario, for example, tying mastery of Java with game performance, players must program characters to perform increasingly complex dance behaviors which, according to the game’s narrative, increases the characters’ degree of satisfaction across a range of metrics, such as being allowed by a fearsome bouncer into a club, or excelling in a dance competition. The motivation for this narrative is its potential to serve as an attractive pedagogical medium for the target audience. [Flanagan et al. 2005] http://www.alice.org/kelleher/storytelling/ See http://www.RAPUNSEL.org/; also Perlin et al. [2003] and Plass et al. [2007].

Figure 12: The RAPUNSEL environment.

An important component of both of the projects is the implementation of real-time (always-running) custom coding environments designed to minimize errors that are common among student programmers. While Alice uses a visual programming language in which “instructions correspond to standard statements in a production oriented programming language, such as Java, C++, and C#”,48 the RAPUNSEL project attempts to teach a “dialogue” of Java, thus maximizing students’ ease-of-transition to this commonly-used language.





See http://www.alice.org/index.php?page=what_is_alice/what_is_alice/.

There are two other game environments worth briefly mentioning: Squeak Etoys and Scratch. Squeak Etoys49 was inspired by LOGO, PARC-Smalltalk, Hypercard, and starLOGO. It is a media-rich authoring environment with a simple, powerful scripted object model for many kinds of objects created by end-users that runs on many platforms. It provides a unified user-interface and scripting environment for working with digital media. It includes 2D and 3D graphics, images, text, particles, presentations, web pages, videos, sound and MIDI, etc. It includes the ability to share desktops with other users in real-time, so many forms of immersive mentoring and play can be done over the Internet. It is multilingual, runs on more than 20 platforms bit-identically, and has been successfully used in the USA, Europe, South America (Brazil, Colombia, Argentina), Asia (Japan, Korea, India, Nepal), and elsewhere. It is free and open source, and can be downloaded for a number of platforms [Kay 2005].

Figure 13: The Squeak-Etoys environment.

See http://www.squeakland.org/.

Scratch50 is a graphical-programming environment intended to enable young people (ages 8 and up) to create their own interactive stories, games, and animations, and to share their creations on the web. Scratch is designed to make programming more tinkerable, more meaningful, and more social. Since Scratch was launched in May 2007, more than 300,000 projects have been shared on the Scratch website, which has been called “the YouTube of interactive media.” As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively. Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, directed by Mitchel Resnick.

Figure 14: The Scratch environment.

3.3.2 Digital Media Manipulation and Max/MSP Media and computation are complementary—digital media are computationally created and manipulated... students who are interested in working with digital media can look “under the hood” to see how their art, music and websites come to be. At the same time, a creative context for See http://scratch.mit.edu/.

programming provides students with an interesting introductory computer science experience [Guzdial 2003].

Much like gaming, digital media manipulation has been proposed as a useful context for programming and computer science education [Guzdial 2003] as it is directly relevant to students’ lives. According to a 2005 study conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life project, more than one-half of all American teens, and 57 percent of teens who use the Internet, could be considered media creators [Jenkins 06]. Mark Guzdial, for one, has been a

consistent proponent of this approach, which he refers to as ‘Media Computation’:

The use of domain-specific contexts for computer science learning is being explored by researchers with the aim of improving students’ experiences in IT courses, we propose using this approach for introductory computer science. Because media computation focuses on data that is important to students—their own photographs, recordings, and creations—and allows them to use computation in a personally expressive way, we expect to better engage non-computer science majors than traditional introductory courses and, as a result, improve retention rates [Guzdial 2003].

He describes the goal of “Introduction to Media Computation”, a class he started at Georgia

Institute of Technology in 2003, as:

learning about the fundamentals of digital media with basic programming skills and computer science concepts. Media and computation are complementary—digital media are computationally created and manipulated.

In the media computation course, students who are interested in working with digital media can look “under the hood” to see how their art, music and websites come to be. At the same time, a creative context for programming provides students with an interesting introductory computer science experience [Guzdial 2003].

While this course (in contrast to PDAL) is not open to CS majors, its goals are very similar, that is, to teach programming and computation within the context of digital media.

Thus far, the course seems to have been quite successful:

The results have been dramatic. 120 students enrolled, 2/3 female, and only three students withdrew. By the end of the semester, the combined withdrawal, failure and D-grade rate had reached 11.5%--compared to 42.9% in the traditional introductory computer science course. 60% of the students who took media computation reported that they would be interested in taking an advanced version of the course; only 6% reported that they would otherwise be interested in taking more computer science. Results of the trial indicate that media computation motivates and engages an audience that is poorly served by traditional computer science courses [Guzdial 2003].

Success like that seen in Guzdial’s class has bolstered claims by those who have argued that the difficulty students have with learning computer science is in part due to its presentation. These critics51 have often concluded that a visually-oriented approach is

superior, for a number of reasons:

It provides a concrete (visual) metaphor for computational processes.

–  –  –

It provides immediate “all-at-once” feedback, in contrast to more temporally-oriented • media like language or sound, thus providing more “bang-for-buck” from programming techniques (compare an image blur to a sentence blur).

–  –  –

modified and re-combined. In language it is difficult to make such distinctions. In various cases the atomic unit might be considered as the word, the letter, the

–  –  –

“Non-figurative” or abstract images are generally easier to process than non figurative language. Grammaticality and sense are less constrained in images. [Smith 1975] For an early instance of this argument, and an innovative system to address it, see the Pygmalion system [Smith 1975].

Often such critiques have led to new programming and/or teaching paradigms based on visual metaphors52. However, this trend has not proven to be a panacea. While there is evidence that visual environments can make programming easier, it is less clear that students who use them learn an equivalent amount about core CS concepts. A good example of this discrepancy is the Max/MSP environment originally designed by Miller Puckette in the mids.

Figure 15: The Max/MSP environment.

Examples include Pygmalion, Alice, MAX/MSP, Scratch; even the now ubiquitous WIMP (windows, icons, menus, pointing-device) interface.

Max is a graphical, real-time, drag/drop programming system initially designed for music processing. Rather than writing scripts or procedures, students connect objects in a visual space according to a “patchbay” metaphor, where the output of one “box” is connected to the inputs of other boxes.

While Max has proven to be a highly successful tool for practicing digital artists, it has had less success as a teaching tool. While students seem generally able to realize their ideas in the Max environment, prior exposure to Max seems to have little affect on a student’s capabilities with more traditional textual languages like C, Java, or Python, especially as relates to program structure. As one student commented, My previous experience with programming in art was through the lens of Max/MSP, a program that is both very closely linked with sonic art as well as very unlike other programming languages (if it can even truly be called a programming language). The biggest adjustment I had to make while creating works in Processing was changing the way I thought about time...

Interestingly, “key” concepts found within most introductory computer science classes (for instance, variables and iteration) appear to be absent within Max (though they are actually just hidden). In fact, it is our experience that students with only a Max background seem to have more difficulty conceptualizing ideas like variables, iteration and operation order53, as they try to map them onto their prior experience, than students with no prior programming experience whatsoever. Thus the question arises of just how important concepts like variables and iteration actually are if practicing digital sound artists can implement the procedural processes that they need to while these concepts remain hidden.



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