Archive for January 3, 2011

The Viewpoints Research Institute’s STEPS Project

From time-to-time, I re-post a comment to a blog post as a post, to give it greater visibility and attention.  There are relatively few references in the computing education community to the STEPS project that Alan Kay is leading at Viewpoints Research Institute. It’s not computing education research like what we see at the SIGCSE Symposium or ICER or FIE — it’s about re-thinking what and how we’re teaching. I recommend exploring their papers and tools, and to use those to reflect on why we are teaching what we are teaching.

People who read this blog might be interested in a rather large scale “Computer Science as a science” research project.

The “STEPS Project” (Steps Toward Expressive Programming Systems) takes the view that science views *phenomena” and tries to understand it by building models that explain it (and in the deepest sciences, the models *produce* highly similar phenomena).

The phenomena could arise from human made things, so there can be a science of “bridges” …. and a science of “computer systems”.

Here is the STEPS proposal to NSF from 4 years ago.

It proposes to make a working model of “vanilla personal computing” from the “end-user down to the metal”.

One can find the yearly reports on the webpage:
(Choose “Fundamental New Computer Technologies” and “Alan Kay” to narrow the search)

We took a kind of “Maxwell’s Equations” approach to making the model. We wanted it to be comprehensive and small (1000 to 10,000 times smaller than the code in typical personal computer systems and apps).

But we also avoided reverse engineering the actual phenomena or “dirty details” from the vendors. Instead we designed a new system that would act the way personal computing does, but we were able to use as many design and mathematical skills as we could muster to get around some of the less than celestial approaches in some of today’s systems.

No cries of victory at this point, but I think some folks in computing and in computing education will find the stuff that has been done to be interesting.

Perhaps some will also be able to see a different kind of approach to “what is CS?” and a different approach to curriculum for introducing our field,



January 3, 2011 at 7:32 am Leave a comment

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