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The Alice Software System

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  1. The Alice Software System Randy Pausch Carnegie Mellon University

  2. Outline • The Need: declining CS majors • Demo of the Alice system • History / How we built it • How Alice is being used • Q & A

  3. Alice is a solution to thecurrent big problem inComputer Science Education:Attracting and Retaining Students

  4. How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Some day they may be scarce.

  5. CS majors How extravagant you are, throwing away women like that. Some day they may be scarce.

  6. The Shrinking CS pool

  7. The Shrinking CS pool

  8. And, those that are qualified to fill technical jobs are not representative of the US population

  9. One Potential Answer: It’s too frustrating class HelloWorld { public static void main (String args[]) { System.out.print("Hello World "); } }

  10. The way we teach CS1 has not really changed in the last 25 years.Alice is about keeping America economically competitive.And about eighteen year-olds not crying themselves to sleep.

  11. The Alice Software • A 3D interactive animation environment • A tool for teaching fundamental programming concepts • object oriented • System developed at Carnegie Mellon

  12. A Demo of Alice…

  13. Alice is about focusing on what really matters…

  14. The Alice Approach • Uses 3D graphics to engage students • Has a “smart” drag-and-drop editor that prevents syntax errors • Appeals to wide audience • Storytelling • (young women, minority students) • Interactive computer games • (young men) • Not threatening; Alice builds students’ confidence

  15. Key Alice Features • Makes objects something students can see and relate to • Has a java syntax mode to ease the transition to C++/Java/

  16. Over 700 free objects in the gallery

  17. “Visual Programming” • Alice is not “visual programming” • Alice is textual programming of visual state. • My Opinion: Code continues to be the best way we have to express programming logic, even for novices.

  18. Stencils Tutorial

  19. Stencils Tutorial

  20. User Testing an API • Talk-Aloud “mental model”-based tests, plus after-test debriefing • Test in pairs, not alone

  21. The Need for a Textbook

  22. Textbook Features • Emphasizes design using storyboards • Supports varying instructional approaches • “objects-early” • “objects-first" • Allows an (optional) early introduction to events • Color screen captures illustrate step-by-step construction of programs

  23. Bucknell University California Lutheran University California State University at Humboldt Camden County College Carnegie Mellon University Clemson University Colorado School of Mines Community College of Philadelphia Cornell University Duke University Georgetown College Haverford College Ithaca College Manor College Mississippi Valley State University Plymouth State University Saint Edward’s University Saint Joseph's University Saint Lawrence College San Diego State University Sierra Nevada College Southwestern University Tompkins Cortland Community College University of Colorado University of Illinois University of Mississippi Virginia Tech And several high schools Schools using Alice 2004-2005

  24. The Punch Line • Alice works • And we can prove it…

  25. Alice helps at-risk CS majors

  26. Alice helps at-risk CS majors

  27. "Programming in Alice is time consuming, but it's not frustrating.“ -Luis Rodriguez, Age 17

  28. Commonly Asked Questions • How much does the Alice software cost? • It is free! (and open source) • Does Alice run on the Macintosh? • Yes! Download Mac version from • Where can I go for instructor support materials? • • Is Alice hard to install? • Just copy files to the hard drive; no “install”

  29. Commonly Asked Questions, Cont. • Isn’t Alice just a toy? (it looks so “Fisher-Price”!) • No -- Alice contains all the features of “real” languages • Students can write 3,000 line programs in Alice • How do students go from Alice to Java? • They have learned the concepts in Alice, then learn syntax in Java • They have built confidence and are more persistent • Is there any “hard evidence” that Alice works? • Yes! An NSF study on “at risk” CS1 students who used Alice… • Increased grades from C to B • Retention (into CS2) went from 47% to 88%

  30. How Alice is being used • In pre-CS1 • course for majors and students considering a CS major • As conceptual introduction in CS1, followed by a transition to Java/C++/VB • Introduction to programming course • non-majors (in business schools, for example) • attract students to become CS majors • Computer literacy • problem-solving component • Pre-AP in high schools

  31. Going Forward • Ph.D. student Caitlin Kelleher: a “shining moment” • Getting middle school girls, who want to tell stories, to learn to program (and therefore build their confidence)

  32. The Alice Software System Randy Pausch Carnegie Mellon University