Integrating arts and computation. Applying a studio arts model of learning to programming interactive stories in Scratch

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Journal/Book Title/Conference

Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association

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Most efforts to bring programming to K-12 education have focused on the design of video games (Kafai, 1995), simulations (Resnick, 1994), or even robots (Sullivan, 2008). The programming of digital stories (Kelleher & Pausch, 2005), music videos, or interactive art (Peppler, 2010) have been considered as well, though they are often seen as computationally less challenging. In this paper, we argue that programming interactive stories can have equal potential for including challenging computing concepts through a carefully created design challenge that incorporated elements of a studio art model (Sawyer, 2012) to teach computing. As a first step we examine data from two projects: collaboratively created, interactive animated stories designed in response to a programming challenge issued in the Scratch online computing community ( and Scratch projects created more ad hoc in a community technology center (Maloney et al., 2008). In the former project we specifically applied two elements of a studio model: an open-ended design challenge with targeted constraints meant to facilitate learning and public constructive comments given after first drafts were submitted online (required at the midpoint of the challenge). Our research questions were: (1) Did an interactive story challenge elicit use of sophisticated computational concepts, especially compared to a more unstructured computer clubhouse? and (2) How did constructive comments affect both the artistic and computational qualities of projects? First, we examined programming blocks and code used in the 33 Scratch projects that were created as part of the online collaborative challenge, and then compared them to baseline data of 536 Scratch projects we had previously collected in a community technology center (Maloney et al., 2008). Analysis demonstrated that indeed the genre of interactive stories solicited nearly universal usage of synchronization and conditionals, a much higher level of usage than found by Maloney et al in year 2 of their study. Further, after receiving constructive criticism at a midpoint in their projects, many more projects included advanced programming concepts such as random numbers, Boolean logic, or variables (see Figure 1). Indeed, 17 out of 33 projects (51%) included these advanced elements in their second version, suggesting that constructive criticism, as part of a studio model that encourages public external reflection, helped projects become more computationally sophisticated. Second, we developed a framework to evaluate the quality of interactivity, story, and media in projects (i.e., story elements included character development, plot, emotional engagement, and dialogue). We found that 21 of 33 projects improved in at least two of these areas, though this did not necessarily relate to improvements in computation. In our discussion we consider how the constructive feedback and other key features of the studio arts model can be extended to develop more computationally and artistically rich design activities and support youth in learning to program.

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