The Open Source Identity Crisis, limiting the potential for legitimate peripheral participation

An interesting new piece on identity within the open source community.  Noah Slater addresses a concern that I have, that the definition of contribution in open source communities limits the opportunity for legitimate peripheral participation.

Perhaps the most obvious way in which the hacker identity has a hold over the open source identity is this notion that you have to code to contribute to open source. Much like technical talent is centered in the tech industry, code is seen as the one true way to contribute. This can be such a powerful idea that documentation, design, marketing, and so on are often seen as largely irrelevant. And even when this isn’t the case, they are seen as second class skills. For many hackers, open source is an escape from professional environments where collaboration with these “lesser”, more “mainstream” activities is mandatory.

via The Open Source Identity Crisis, by Noah Slater | Model View Culture.

September 17, 2014 at 8:37 am 3 comments

Gidget is now released: A debugging puzzle game for novice programmers

I’ve seen Michael Lee present two papers on Gidget at ICER, and they were both fascinating.  Gidget is now moving out of the laboratory, and I’m eager to see what happens when lots of people get a chance to play with it.  Andy Ko has a blog post about Gidget that explains some of the goals.

Hello Gidget Supporter!

We are happy to announce that Gidget has launched today! You, your friends, and your family members can now help Gidget debug faulty code to solve puzzles at

Gidget is a game designed to teach computer programming concepts through debugging puzzles. Gidget the robot was damaged on its way to clean up a chemical spill and save the animals, so it is the players’ job to fix Gidget’s problematic code to complete all the missions. As the levels become more challenging, players can combine newly introduced concepts with previously used commands to solve the puzzles and progress through the game.

Gidget is the dissertation work of Michael J. Lee who is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington’s Information School. Prior to its public release, over 800 online participants played through various versions of the game, and over 60 teenagers played through the game and created their own levels during four summer camps in 2013 and 2014. Our research has shown that novice programmers of all ages become very engaged with the activity, and that they are able to create their own levels (i.e., create their own programs from scratch) successfully after playing through the game.

Please share widely and refer to the press release for more information. We hope you have fun playing the game, and appreciate your interest and support for Gidget.


Michael J. Lee and the rest of the Gidget Team

Michael J. Lee

PhD Candidate, Information School

University of Washington

Seattle, WA 98195-2840


September 16, 2014 at 8:48 am Leave a comment

Computing’s Narrow Focus May Hinder Women’s Participation: Context matters

Of course, I buy into the argument here about the importance of context. Beyond that, this article does a nice job of tying context to success of women in computing (with quotes both from Barbara Ericson and Valerie Barr, formerly at NSF).

“Boys fall in love with computers as machines; girls see them as tools to do something else,” said Barbara Ericson, a senior research scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology who tracks the AP exam. “Then girls think, ‘maybe I don’t belong because I don’t love them like the boys do.’”

In her position as a professor of computer science at Union College, Barr found contextualizing computer science classes led to an increase in female enrollment. “We said, ‘let’s show them that computer science can be useful by giving themes to the introductory CS courses, so students can see their relevance,’” she said. “For us, it’s been enormously successful. Ten years ago we taught the introductory course to 29 students, and 14% of them were women. This year there were over 200 students, and 39% of them were women.” Beyond college, Barr said, she’d also like to see “a bigger funnel into the corporate world and the tech industry, with people coming from many other majors. It doesn’t have to be just CS majors.”

via Computing’s Narrow Focus May Hinder Women’s Participation | News | Communications of the ACM.

September 15, 2014 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

Guest Post by Joanna Goode: On CS for Each

I wrote a blog post recently about Joanna Goode promoting the goal of “CS for Each.”  Several commenters asked for more details.  I asked Joanna, and she wrote me this lovely, detailed explanation.  I share it here with her permission — thanks, Joanna!

To answer, we as CS educators want to purposefully design learning activities that build off of students’ local knowledge to teach particular computer science concepts or practices. Allowing for students to integrate their own cultural knowledge and social interests into their academic computational artifacts deepens learning and allows for students to develop personal relationships  with computing. More specifically, computer science courses lend themselves well for project-based learning, a more open-ended performance assessment that encourages student discretion in the design and implementation of a specified culminating project. Allowing students to use a graphical programming environment to create a Public Service Announcement of a topic of their choice, for example, is more engaging for most youth than a one-size-fits-all generic programming assignment with one “correct” answer.

Along with my colleagues Jane Margolis and Jean Ryoo, we recently wrote a piece for Educational Leadership (to be published later this year) that uses ExploringCS (ECS) to show how learning activities can be designed to draw on students’ local knowledge, cultural identity, and social interests. Here is an excerpt:

The ECS curriculum is rooted in research on science learning that shows that for traditionally underrepresented students, engagement and learning is deepened when the practices of the field are recreated in locally meaningful ways that blend youth social worlds with the world of science[.1]   Consider these ECS activities that draw on students’ local and cultural knowledge:

  • In the first unit on Human-Computer Interaction, as students learn about internet searching, they conduct “scavenger hunts” for data about the demographics, income level, cultural assets, people, and educational opportunities in their communities.
  • In the Problem-Solving unit, students work with Culturally-Situated Design Tools [2], a software program that “help students learn [math and computing] principles as they simulate the original artifacts, and develop their own creations.” In one of the designs on cornrow braids students learn about the history of this braiding tradition from Africa through the Middle Passage, the Civil Rights movement to contemporary popular culture, and how the making of the cornrows is based on transformational geometry.
  • In the Web Design unit, students learn how to use html and css so they can create websites about any topic of their choosing, such as an ethical dilemma, their family tree, future career, or worldwide/community problems.
  • In the Introduction to Programming unit, students design a computer program to create a game or an animated story about an issue of concern.
  • In the Data Analysis and Computing unit, students collect and combine data about their own snacking behavior and learn how to analyze the data and compare it to large data sources.
  • In the Robotics unit, students creatively program their robots to work through mazes or dance to students’ favorite songs.

Each ECS unit concludes with a culminating project that connects students’ social worlds to computer science concepts. For example, in unit two they connect their knowledge of problem solving, data collection and minimal spanning trees to create the shortest and least expensive route for showing tourists their favorite places in their neighborhoods.

[1] Barton, A.C. and Tan, E. 2010.  We be burnin’!  Agency, identity, and science learning.   The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19, 2, 187-229.

[2] Eglash, Ron.  Culturally Situated Design Tools.  See: See:

September 14, 2014 at 8:57 am 6 comments

CodeSpells: Express Yourself With Magic by ThoughtSTEM — Kickstarter

Sarah Esper (one of the leads on CodeSpells) was part of the 2013 ICER Doctoral Consortium, and was just in the ICER CRR with me.  She’s designing CodeSpells based on computing education research.  It’s worth checking out!

Become the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen by crafting magical spells in code.When we were young, wizards like Gandalf and Dumbledore struck a chord in our minds.  We spent hours pretending to be wizards and casting epic imaginary spells.Now, we want to bring that kind of creative freedom to video games.  Instead of giving the player pre-packaged spells, CodeSpells allows you to craft your own magical spells.  It’s the ultimate spellcrafting sandbox.What makes it all possible is code.  The game provides a coding interface where you can specify exactly what your spells will do. This interface is intuitive enough for individuals young and old who have never coded before.  But skilled coders will also enjoy using their coding skills in new and creative ways!  Even children can use this interface to make mountains out of the terrain, make an impenetrable force field around yourself, or even make a golem creature out of the surrounding rocks. The sky is the limit!

via CodeSpells: Express Yourself With Magic by ThoughtSTEM — Kickstarter.

September 13, 2014 at 8:51 am Leave a comment

Digital Literacy vs. Learning to Code: A False Dichotomy

The below linked article makes some strong assumptions about “learning to code” that lead to the author’s confusion about the difference between learning to code and digital literacy.  NOBODY is arguing that all students “need to learn how to build the next Dropbox.”  EVERYONE is in agreement about the importance of digital literacy — but what does that mean, and how do you get there?

As I’ve pointed out several times, a great many professionals code, even those who don’t work in traditional “computing” jobs — for every professional software developer, there are four to nine (depending on how you define “code”) end-user programmers.  They code not to build Dropbox, but to solve problems that are more unique and require more creative solutions than canned applications software provides.  We’re not talking thousands of lines of code.  We’re talking 10-20, at most 100 lines of code for a solution (as my computational engineer colleagues tell me).  For many people, coding WILL be part of the digital literacy that they need.

Learning some basic coding is an effective way of developing the valued understanding of how the cloud works and how other digital technology in their world works.  Applications purposefully hide the underlying technology. Coding is a way of reaching a level lower, the level at which we want students to understand. In biology, we use microscopes and do dissections to get (literally) below the surface level. That’s the point of coding. No student who dissects a fetal pig is then ready for heart surgery, and no student who learns how to download a CSV data file and do some computation over the numbers in it is then ready to build Dropbox. But both groups of hypothetical students would then have a better understanding of how their world works and how they can be effective within it.

Offering programming electives for students who want to learn Python or scripting won’t solve the underlying problem of digital illiteracy. So even if your goal is to teach all students to code, schools will first need to introduce computer-science concepts that help students learn how to stack the building blocks themselves.

They don’t need to learn how to build the next Dropbox, but they should understand how the cloud works.

“If you want to be able to use the machine to do anything, whether it’s use an existing application or actually write your own code, you have to understand what the machines can do for you, and what they can’t, even if you’re never going to write code,” Ari Gesher, engineering ambassador at Palantir Technologies, said at the event.

via Kids Need To Learn Digital Literacy—Not How To Code – ReadWrite.

September 12, 2014 at 8:22 am 1 comment

Computing ed researcher fired from NSF over questions about her role as 1980s activist

I’ve known Valerie Barr for years and believe that she was honest with the agents. I don’t believe that she lied about her involvement with a domestic terrorist organization that had “ties” (whatever that means) to two political activist organizations she belonged to.

I’m most shocked about the process. Valerie was dismissed on the basis of a report by a possibly biased agent — there are no transcripts or notes from the interview.  The OPM is prosecutor, judge, and jury — there is no defense. Doesn’t sound like due process to me.  It’s a loss to our community that a well-regarded researcher is forced out of NSF.

It’s a greater loss in that it will make it less likely that another “typical liberal college professor” (a quote from the below article) might offer to serve.

After again being asked if she had been a member of any organization that espoused violence, Barr was grilled for 4.5 hours about her knowledge of all three organizations and several individuals with ties to them, including the persons who tried to rob the Brink’s truck. Four people were found guilty of murder in that attack and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, including Kathy Boudin, who was released in 2003 and is now an adjunct assistant professor of social work at Columbia University. “I found out about the Brink’s robbery by hearing it on the news, and just like everybody else I was shocked,” she recalls.

But OPM apparently thought otherwise, again citing her “deliberate misrepresentation” in its report. Relying heavily on that investigation, NSF handed Barr a letter on 25 July saying that it planned to terminate her IPA at the end of the first year because the OPM review had found her to be unfit for the job…Barr was given a chance to appeal NSF’s decision, and on 11 August she submitted a letter stating that OPM’s summary report of its investigation “contains many errors or mischaracterizations of my statements.” As is standard practice, agencies receive only a summary of the OPM investigation, not a full report, and lawyers familiar with the process say that an agent’s interview notes are typically destroyed after the report is written.

via Researcher loses job at NSF after government questions her role as 1980s activist | Science/AAAS | News.

September 11, 2014 at 8:38 am 2 comments

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