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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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Thus, the factory-style's static “create” method could then instantiate the appropriate delegate based on the “serverEnabled” flag. In the RiTa context however, the cognitive overhead of this pattern was judged, for a number of reasons, to be too high to justify. First, creation of RiTa objects via this pattern would break the consistency of the “new” paradigm for object creation, which prevails throughout Processing and its libraries. Secondly, users would need to understand (or ignore) the distinction between static and object methods, as well as why (in the interface case) multiple objects types would be required to create a single new object. The abstract class case is perhaps more intuitive, but then rules out traditional inheritance for the core set of RiTa objects, each of which already extends RiObject. More importantly, creating RiTa objects would look significantly different than creating basic Java and/or Processing objects, adding an undesirable degree of complexity for new users. Thus the somewhat complex internal mechanism described above was implemented, breaking with typical design patterns, in order to preserve a simple and consistent interface for object creation while still facilitating the simplest mechanism for switching between “normal” and “client/server” modes.

While the RitaServer mechanism supports servers on remote computers (e.g. for access by “live” applets), this has not proven to be the typical use case. Perhaps unique to the context of computational art,37 and in accord with our design constraint of rapid (or micro) iteration, more common is the use of this mechanism on a single local machine; e.g., both client and server running on a user's laptop. It is essential in development, at least in the arts context, to be able to rapidly iterate, trying and quickly abandoning new ideas, moving simultaneously in a number of development directions.

Let us imagine that it took thirty seconds to load and construct a very large n-gram model from a set of texts. This wait, occurring with each run of the program, would dramatically reduce the productivity of the artist-programmer in terms of iterations, and more significantly would diminish her ability to quickly develop new ideas. By running the RiTaServer locally however, this load time is paid for only once (unless new texts are swapped in) while the additional overhead for method calls, due to marshalling and local network latency, is generally minimal enough to be unnoticeable. Because the concrete server object (rita.support.MarkovModel in our example) implements the same interface as the local See the chapter 6 on creativity support engineering principles for the arts.

object, there is no need, and thus no performance penalty to paid, for method calls via reflection.

Of course, in our example, there is still the question of whether an end-user (someone viewing the applet as an online art piece) would be willing to wait the thirty seconds for the texts to load. Because this is a one-time wait and there is a perceived reward (the motivation to actually view the piece), the answer here is generally yes. In cases where such a wait is judged to be unacceptable, or in the scenario where the memory requirements for the model exceed those of the web browser itself, the RiTaServer can be run on the physically remote web server machine. In this scenario, model loading and memory constraints disappear for the user and are paid only once for the life of the application. Of course this scenario can require more permissions on the web server than are available to some RiTa users (especially inexperienced students), and is thus only recommended when fully necessary.

2.5.7 The EclipseP5Exporter One of the most powerful features of the Processing environment, for experienced and inexperienced programmers alike, is its one-click “export” feature. After completing and testing a sketch within the Processing environment, a single button push will export the sketch either as a basic web-applet, a signed web-applet with native libraries (such as those necessary for OpenGL38) and/or a separate stand-alone application for each of the major platforms (Windows, Mac, and Linux). All required resources, including HTML pages, links to source code, libraries, and jars are generated and archived quickly and transparently. To publish a sketch as a publicly accessible applet, one need only copy the exported applet directory to a server via an FTP program (nearly all students nowadays have web server space See http://www.opengl.org/.

provided as part of their school accounts). As ease-of-use, share-ability, and transparency (e.g., visible source code) were among our primary design constraints, this was an essential feature.

Figure 9: Screenshot of the RiTa-Eclipse plugin interface.

Yet the Processing environment, while ideal for beginners, was quickly outgrown by students as they advanced. In fact, by mid-semester there was often a vocal group of students asking for assistance in switching to the Eclipse IDE, a step-by-step tutorial for which was added to the course wiki. The problem, however, is that Eclipse provides no similar mechanism for export, not even for simple applications on one's own platform. This led to our development of a new RiTa-Eclipse plugin called the EclipseP5Exporter, which eventually became an important tool for the Processing community, whether or not it was used in conjunction with the other RiTa tools. The EclipseP5Exporter was designed and implemented as a native Eclipse plugin that provides the same 'export' functionality as found in Processing. Built via the SWT toolkit, it integrates directly into the Eclipse IDE widget set and provides all the functionality listed above. Figure 9 (above) shows a screenshot of the exporter, visible in the Eclipse interface as both a toolbar button and as a menu item.





Figure 10: Screenshot of the RiTa-Eclipse plugin configuration widget.

Figure 10 shows a secondary screen in which users can choose the project and type of export to generate. When the export completes, a new directory is created containing the exported resources, which can then be launched via a simple double-click.

2.6 Conclusion "What is really needed is social change: new play systems, new interaction models, expressive programming, and new role models in the field." [Perlin et al. 2003] In this chapter we have discussed the range of design considerations involved in making RiTa a functional and productive toolkit for practicing writers, and particularly as an end-to-end solution for computational writing courses. As a creativity support tool, RiTa includes a number of functions relating specifically to natural-language processing, carefully constructed to give students and artists at all levels a high degree of flexibility without sacrificing learnability or performance. Our goals dictated that the RiTa framework, wherever possible, be simple enough to be understood by entry-level students, and powerful enough to be adapted by those with more developed computer science skills.

Though the RiTa toolkit is still in development, our initial experiences in the classroom indicate that, for the most part, these core goals have been met. In the next chapter, we will discuss the accompanying pedagogical framework with which we brought RiTa to the classroom, and then, in the final chapter, a range of evaluation metrics by which we have judged our success.

–  –  –

3.1 Introduction [A]dmission and retention rates to computer science university courses are falling, enrollment is male dominated and although there is a thriving community of end-user programmers, there are serious concerns about the dependability of the software which they produce. Thus there is a need both to foster the development of computational thinking in young learners and to motivate them to study computing subjects by improving the perception of computing, especially for girls. [Romero et al. 2007] This chapter discusses educational applications of the RiTa tools. The bulk of the observations presented in this sections are based on our experiences in a series of courses taught over 4 semesters at Brown University39. In addition to providing a test environment for the tools in question, the goal of these courses was to enable students to create personally meaningful works of art and literature via computational methods while simultaneously developing the fundamentals of programming and computer science. To accomplish this dual goal we attempted to create a learning environment in which students’ creative efforts to construct publicly viewable works in digital media doubled as programming exercises teaching basic procedural literacy. In close conjunction with the RiTa toolkit, a pedagogical approach was developed which we hoped would better leverage the affordancesi of these new tools to accomplish our objectives.

In the sections that follow, we discuss a range of related issues; from previous work in the area, to guiding educational theories, to specific pedagogical decisions, to the

See the "Programming for Digital Art and Literature" course website:

http://www.rednoise.org/pdal/ [Howe 2009].

relationship between tools and teaching strategies. From these various perspectives we attempt to make the larger case that arts-focused tools provide a viable platform not only for teaching computationally-augmented art and writing practice, but also for teaching basic computer science concepts and advancing the goals of procedural literacy. In addition to the mechanics of the courses40, we present some of the difficulties we experienced, as well as some recurring themes that arose as students engaged with these tools to implement their own creative works. By reflecting critically on the experience of teaching with RiTa it is hoped that we can further develop strategies for teaching core computer science skills, computer science education, and specifically, for computationally-augmented art and literary practice.

This chapter is divided into the following sections: Procedural Literacy and Computational Thinking; Constructivism, Constructionism and generative pedagogy;

Educational software environments and related initiatives; Comparison of the PDAL course with other classroom tools/environments; and context-specific design considerations.

3.2 Procedural Literacy and Computational Thinking Computer literacy for all citizens will be imperative for the United States to maintain a diverse, internationally competitive, and globally engaged workforce of scientists, engineers, and well-prepared citizens. This literacy must include computer programming and computer science fundamentals and involve both reading (using existing computer applications) and writing (making one's own applications). [Plass et al. 2007].

The course, taught between 2007-09, was originally entitled “Electronic Writing” before being renamed, for the subsequent three iterations, as “Programming for Digital Art and Literature”.

Computer science researchers and educators have continually recognized the need to motivate a larger section of the population to understand and engage with core computational ideas. This research direction, pursued under various names, from Procedural Literacy41, to Computational Thinking [Wing 2006], stresses the utility in procedural understanding for individuals in a range of professional, cultural, political, and educational contexts in digitallymediated society. Similarly, a number of researchers [Greenberger 1962; Sheil 1980; Mateas 2005; Bogost 2005; Plass et al. 2007] have argued that engagement with programmatic concepts betters the lives of individuals in these contexts and furthers larger societal goals in

a number of ways:

By teaching general problem-solving techniques, applicable to a wide range of •

–  –  –

By facilitating a better understanding of the ways in which technological choices • made by a society influence its social, political, and cultural values;

By including a larger, and more diverse segment of the population as ‘decision makers’ on technologically-inflected issues.

According to Guzdial [Guzdial and Soloway 2003], as reported in Mateas [2005], the earliest argument for universal procedural literacy is one given by A.J. Perlis in a symposium held in 1961 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of M.I.T., and published in the collection Management and the Computer of the Future by Greenberger [1962].

Forte and Guzdial [2004] characterize the problem as follows:

As the skills that constitute literacy evolve to accommodate digital media, computer science education finds itself in a sorry state. While students are more in need of computational skills than ever, computer science suffers dramatically low retention rates and a declining percentage of women and minorities. Studies of the problem point to the overemphasis in computer science classes on abstraction over application, technical details instead of usability, and the stereotypical view of programmers as loners lacking creativity.

A number of reasons have been cited for the lack of progress in this respect:

inappropriate tools and learning environments, lack of motivation for new learners (no support for the creativity-motivated), unsound pedagogy, lack of role models and poor evaluation of existing methods. While there seems to have been a recent upsurge in interest in the notion of widespread procedural literacy, it is by no means a new idea, but rather builds on a long tradition in the field. While this long lineage has been explored in detail elsewhere [Mateas et al. 2003], it is worth briefly noting what was likely its first mention within CS, from A.J. Perlis.



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