Designing for Computational Expression: Four Principles for the Design of Learning Environments towards Computational Literacy

Designing for Computational Expression: Four Principles for the Design of Learning Environments towards Computational Literacy

David Weintrop (Northwestern University, USA) and Uri Wilensky (Northwestern University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4797-8.ch006
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In this chapter, framed by Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, Wilensky and Papert’s restructuration theory, and Noss and Hoyles’ theoretical construct of webbing, the authors explore four practical design principles facilitating the creation of learning environments that can overcome the challenge of introducing learners to computational expression in meaningful contexts and can start learners down the path towards computational literacy. The four design principles discussed are (1) low-threshold interfaces, (2) task-specific tools, (3) visual feedback, and (4) in-context examples. The heart of this chapter presents these features and their design rationales in the context of a qualitative study examining participants’ use of RoboBuilder, a blocks-based, program-to-play game.
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The skills associated with computational literacy have many applications, but relatively few students are given the opportunity to learn them. These skills include the ability to read as well as compose sets of instructions using a representational medium that a computer can interpret and execute, along with knowing how and when to use standard computing constructs like conditional logic, iterative structures and recursion to achieve a computational goal. While these skills are taught in computer science courses, restricting them to such contexts greatly limits the audience for this important skill set as few students take computer science courses as part of their formal schooling. Additionally, computer science courses are often designed for students who hope to pursue careers in the field of computer science. As such, they do not emphasize developing basic skills for immediate use, but instead seek to lay the foundations for future computer science studies (Guzdial & Soloway, 2003). In response to the growing recognition that, while not all students will pursue computer science, all students can nevertheless benefit from learning to express ideas in a computationally meaningful way, there have been several efforts to design so-called low-threshold computer languages that are easier to learn but still permit significant expressivity.

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