Dancing and singing humans, even more than robots

December 31, 2010 at 8:26 am 7 comments

I finished up the “Georgia Computes!” report on our first four years just before the holidays.  One of the evaluation studies we did was to look at the contexts that we use in our Girl Scout workshops and how those contexts influenced student attitude change.  We asked students before and after each event (for everything — summer camps, YWCA afterschool activities, as well as Girl Scout camps) whether they agreed or disagreed with seven statements:

1. Computers are fun
2. Programming is hard
3. Girls can do computing
4. Boys can do computing
5. Computer jobs are boring.
6. I am good at computing.
7. I like computing
8. I know more than my friends about computers.

In the one study, we looked at a set of workshops over a multi-year period with over 600 Girl Scouts involved.  We looked at where we got changes in attitudes, and computed the effect size. Here’s one of the tables of results:

This table shows the number of Girl Scout workshops that we had with each context, the number of large/medium/small effect sizes that we saw, and total number of effects. What we see here is that Pico Crickets and Scratch have the most effect: The most large effects, and the most overall effects.  We’ve done a lot of different things in our robotics workshops, from following mazes to singing-and-dancing robots.  Lego Mindstorm workshops (seven different ones, using a variety of activities) had only small effects on changes in attitudes.  This isn’t saying that Lego robotics can’t be an effective context for making more positive Girl Scouts’ attitudes about computing.  We are finding that it is harder than with these other contexts.  I hope that someone replicates this study with even larger n, showing an approach to using Lego Robotics with Girl Scouts that leads to many large effects on attitudes.  We just haven’t been able to find that yet.

Over the Christmas holiday, our extended family has been playing a bunch of great Wii games, including karaoke, “Just Dance,” and various Rock Band games.  Barb and I discovered this morning that we were thinking the same thing about these games: What a great context for learning programming! Barb was noting that “Just Dance” uses a small icon to represent (abstraction!) a particular dance move, which is then repeated several times (iteration!).  I was thinking about the great computing and media ideas required to build this kind of software: From digital signal processing to detect pitch, to the ubiquitous computing ideas involved in sensing the world (e.g., the accelerometers used to detect body motion in the dance games).  We could use an inquiry-based approach to teach computing through these (amazingly popular!) games, e.g., “How do you think Rock Band figures out if you’re singing the right pitch?” and “How accurate do you think the motion detection in ‘Just Dance’ is?”

This is how we should identify contexts to use in contextualized computing education.  What are the application areas that students find intriguing?  What computing ideas do we want to teach and can be taught with those areas?  Even though we may like robotics, if the student audiences that we’re seeking don’t, then it’s not a great context.  There are many great contexts out there, many that are even more popular and even more powerful than what we use today.  People like to sing and dance, even more than making robots sing and dance.  Learning to build software to support that sounds like a great context.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bijan Parsia  |  December 31, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I’m confused by your caution and your hope. I presume that the workshop activities were reasonably comparable accross the different technologies. (If not, they it’s going to be a bit tricky to disentagle the activity from the technology. Or rather, I’d like to see the correlations between activity type and effect size.)

    Mighten Legos just suck for changing attitudes? Any thought as to why? (I guess I’m asking if the report is online :))

  • 2. Gilbert Bernstein  |  December 31, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    Mark, I’m confused by your analysis of that table. If I assume that PicoCrickets had roughly twice as many effects as Scratch and Alice and exactly twice as many events, I think we should normalize that column by dividing by two. After we do that, PicoCrickets, Scratch and Alice are all responsible for roughly the same number of effects. Given statistical variation, I would don’t know if the difference between 13 and 16.5 effects is significant.

    If we further pool medium and large effects together and look at what percentage of the effects were greater than small, we get that Alice had 61%, Scratch 40% and PicoCrickets 36%. If we don’t want to manhandle the data in that way, we can still see that Alice and PicoCrickets had the same number of large effects despite twice as many PicoCricket events being held. It seems unreasonable to conclude much about the relative effectiveness of Alice, PicoCrickets and Scratch from this data.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  December 31, 2010 at 4:47 pm

      I clearly flubbed this post, since you and Bijan are both confused by it. I’m not trying to say anything about Alice vs. PicoCrickets vs. Scratch.

      Here was what I was trying to say, in one paragraph: We should pick contexts for computing education based on what attracts and engages students and what leads to students developing more positive attitudes about computing. There is lots of interest in robotics for computing education. I suspect that that’s more because of teacher interest than student. In our experience, robotics doesn’t meet the criteria of engaging or developing positive attitudes about computing for women. Building programs that support humans singing and dancing (karaoke and “Just Dance” and Beatles Rock Band) may be a successful context, based on these criteria.

      Bijan, we’re still looking for a venue to publish the report. SIGCSE reviewers rejected it because we weren’t introducing new technology, and all of those technologies (Alice, Scratch, Lego Robotics) have been published already. Grace Hopper rejected it because it would fit better in SIGCSE. We’re going to shoot for ICER 2011, so that we have more space to talk about what the activities were in the workshops.

      • 4. Gilbert Bernstein  |  January 2, 2011 at 5:33 pm

        Same as Bijan, I didn’t read the post as being primarily about comparing these different technologies. Even without any real evidence, I suspect activities focused around song and dance are more likely to have strong effects for girls.

        However, the table floating in the middle of your post is in large part about the relative effect of different approaches, especially when you follow it with “What we see here is that Pico Crickets and Scratch have the most effect: The most large effects, and the most overall effects.” I was just nitpicking that your direct analysis (quoted) isn’t really supported by your data.

  • 5. Bijan Parsia  |  December 31, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    (Grr. Post was eated.)

    Yes, I didn’t get (only) that from your post 😉

    I wonder if the comparative low efficacy of the robotics activities (which, after all, were quite varied) was because they didn’t evoke changed attitudes wrt *computing* or *programming*. After all, it’s reasonable to regard building a singing/dancing robot as primarily an artsy-craftsy activity (akin to making a wallet or a doll; that is, an activity where the primary result is a physical, rather than computational, artifact) and thus your questions may not have tracked for them.

    (That was so much better in the eated version. Curses!)

    BTW, the rejection reason given by the SIGCSE reviewers is totally crap. I mean *come on*! Evalaution is in the mission statement!

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  January 1, 2011 at 8:44 am

      Check out PicoCrickets. It’s all artsy-craftsy, and it has the biggest effects. The impact seems to be all about making the computing seem approachable.

      Reviewers don’t read mission statements. And we may not have communicated well enough the point of the paper.

  • […] is some of the raw data that influenced the recent blog post on contexts in workshops, talking about robots, Alice, Scratch, Pleo dinosaurs, and PICO Crickets. Engelman, S., McKlin, […]


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