Friday, August 16, 2013

Teaching Novice Programming: Learning from Alice

At the office today, we got a visit from Stanford professor Stephen Cooper, who's most well known for his work on the Alice project. Alice was developed to teach programming in a novice-friendly way, using a highly visual drag-and-drop editor to create a 3d story or game.

The Alice project was a great experiment in more learnable programming, and much has been published about it since, like in this paper from Cooper. One of the findings was that Alice appealed to a wide audience, across cultures and genders, because story telling appeals to everyone - people just tell different stories and create different worlds! They also found that many students would rely *too much* on trial and error to figure out a solution, and they started emphasizing design and storyboarding more to prevent that.

We showed Stephen what we're currently working on with our tutorials and challenges, and he had some great feedback that we'll incorporate. There's one crucial thing he says that everyone loved in Alice, and that we're missing entirely: Penguins. Apparently, penguins are a universal truth.

Well, that was an easy fix:

...It will take more time to address his other points, but we're happy we got the opportunity to hear them in person. If you know of research in teaching programming that we should check out, let us know in the comments.

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