Australasian Computing Education Conference 2009

Wellington, New Zealand; Jan 20 - Jan 23, 2009

ACE2009: Pre-Conference Workshop Proposal

Contextualized Approaches to Computing Education

18-19 January, 2009

Barbara Ericson and Mark Guzdial

This workshop will present participants with some contextualized approaches to computing education, particularly emphasizing media. Research results will be presented on several different contextualized approaches, including media computation, robotics for CS1, and engineering approaches to CS1.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

9-9:30: Introductions and describing the agenda.

9:30-11:30: An Introduction to Media Computation (Guzdial)

Media Computation is an approach for introducing computing that uses the manipulation of digital media (pictures, sound, Web pages, and video) for introducing computing and data structures. These first two hours present the basic ideas of the approach, and then use Python to introduce simple image manipulation.

11:30-13:00: Lunch and Homework

Participants eat lunch and work on implementing one image manipulation in Python on their own.

13:00-15:00: Media Computation in Java: Sound and Digital Video Effects (Ericson)

During the second presentation period, we shift languages to the more common introductory programming language, Java. We show a couple image manipulations, to see the shift to Java. Simple sound manipulations will be presented, and a couple of digital video special effects (chromakey and background subtraction) as examples.

15.00-15.15: Break

15.15-17.00: Research Results and Discussion (Guzdial and Ericson)

The Media Computation approach has been used in some form at over 100 schools today. In addition, several of these schools have conducted assessments that were later accepted for publication after peer review, from large research universities (like Georgia Tech and University of Illinois-Chicago) to smaller universities (South Carolina State University) to two-year colleges (Gainesville College). We can compare these results to research results about other contextualized approaches, such as robotics and engineering. Research results, both positive and negative, from a variety of studies are presented, and discussion is encouraged. Particular issues to discuss:

  • What additional issues, not yet studied, are relevant for the Australasian context?
  • Which contexts are most relevant for your classes?
  • What are challenges to adoption of a contextualized computing approach?
  • What questions would you want answered before you would consider this approach?

Monday, 19 January 2009

9-11:30: Blending Alice and Media Computation. (Ericson)

Alice allows students to create 3D movies and/or games by dragging and dropping tiles. This helps eliminate the frustration beginners often have with syntax and beginning students have found creating Alice movies motivating. Media Computation teaches computing concepts by having students write textual programs in Java that manipulate media: pictures, sounds, movies, and strings. It introduces computing concepts as needed to solve problems such as iteration to loop through all the pixels of a picture. It introduces conditionals as a way to remove red-eye in a picture. Beginning students have also found the media context motivating.

By blending Alice with Media Computation we hope to take advantage of movies as a motivating context for students. Media Computation will serve as a special effects studio for Alice movies. The approach introduces concepts in Alice and then repeats the concepts in Java using Media Computation. Students can create pictures in Alice and use them in Media Computation. Students can use Media Computation to create sound clips and splice sounds together for Alice movies. Students can even merge live action with Alice movies using chromakey.

This workshop will serve as an introduction to this new approach with some hands-on exercises.

11:30-14:00: Lunch and Homework

Students work on a simple project merging Alice and Media Computation.

14:00-14:30: Student Demonstration

We go around the room and show off the students’ creations from the last two days.

14:30-14:45: Break

14:45-16:00: Media Computation Data Structures (Guzdial and Ericson)

The Media Computation approach has been applied to a data structures class. The driving question for the class is, “How did the Wildebeests charge over the ridge in Disney’s The Lion King?” That scene was the first in which Disney’s animators did not draw their characters. Rather, the Wildebeest characters were modeled, then their herd behavior was simulated. Modeling a character and scene requires linked lists and trees, and simulating requires stacks and queues. The course takes a semester to explain all the data structures concepts needed for that scene, from introducing linked lists through the creation of music, through the use of a discrete event simulation for modeling a company’s behavior in a marketplace.

Participants will see the syllabus and some of the lecture materials used in the approach. We will explore some of the examples used in the course.

16:00-17:00: Research Results and Discussion (Guzdial)

Does a contextualized approach help with later courses, after the first course? We have asked that question about Media Computation Data Structures, and present those results here. At Georgia Tech, we have also just completed a study of a contextualized computer organization course that introduces low-level hardware issues by asking students to program a Gameboy. The results suggest that a contextualized approach in courses after the first semester is not for everybody, and still does result in higher retention and improved student motivation. Discussion will be welcome throughout, with particular focus on the question:

  • Where might context help in your classes?
  • In which classes would context not help?

About the Presenters:

Professor Mark Guzdial will be the keynote speaker for the eleventh Australasian Computing Education Conference.

Dr Barbara Ericson who is the Director, Computer Science Outreach, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, where she aims to increase the quantity and quality of computing teachers at the secondary level, and to increase the quantity and diversity of computing students. She helps develop curricula and conducts workshops for computing educators. Barbara Ericson has 20 years of experience in computer science with a focus on the areas of computer graphics, artifical intelligence, and object-oriented programming. A particular focus of her work has been with Alice, free software from Carnegie Mellon University that allows students to build 3D movies and games using drag-and-drop programming.