Constructionist Prototype Programming in a First Semester HCI Course for Engineering Students

Constructionist Prototype Programming in a First Semester HCI Course for Engineering Students

Jacob Nielsen (University of Southern Denmark, Denmark) and Gunver Majgaard (University of Southern Denmark, Denmark)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6228-5.ch004


How can we merge interactive design processes and the development of interactive prototypes for first-semester students without prior programming experience? The authors provide a selection of relevant contructionism-inspired programming tools and provide indications on how one of them can enrich a user-centred design project for first-semester software and IT engineering students. They do this by describing the experiences from two runs of a HCI course and the concurrent semester projects. The students developed interactive touch-based learning apps for children in the fourth to sixth grade using App Inventor. Most of the project groups managed to do three iterations of specifying requirements, doing conceptual design, physical and interactive prototyping, and user evaluation. The groups implemented quite complex programs with multiple-screen switching, multiple interfaces, media such as pictures, animations and sound, database connection, Web-server connection, and integrated sensors, such as camera, accelerometer, etc. The students did a lot more project iterations and spent more time on the creative designs in real-life situations than the authors expected. This also allowed for the students' professional reflections on their prototypes, usability, interaction, and the design processes. All in all, this gave them a more profound real-life experience in the user-centred design process. The authors compare the two runs and suggest how to introduce contructionist prototype programming in a HCI course curriculum and conclude that contructionist programming tools can be a valuable addition to the teaching of HCI, and they suggest that further research should be conducted to explore how to best integrate these tools in order to optimize the students' learning capabilities.
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How do we best introduce the programming process? Seymour Papert (Papert, 1993) suggested that children learn while they are constructing and experimenting. Papert coined the concept of constructionism, which combines Piaget’s constructivism and an experimental learning strategy. Within this section we describe several technologies that are more or less consequences of the initial ideas of Seymour Papert and which can all be considered constructionist tools. We present these technologies as a part of our research in the quest for finding a technology suitable for our HCI course and the required application area specified by our partner company, MC Nordic, as stated in the settings and case section.

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