NSF Supports Innovative Approach to Undergraduate Education

November 25, 2006

(November 25, 2006)--Barbara Ericson, director of computer science outreach and Professor Mark Guzdial, director of undergraduate programs at the College of Computing were recently awarded funding for yet another National Science Foundation Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (NSF CCLI) grant. Their proposal titled “Collaborative Research: Alice and Media Computation” leverages the strengths of two innovative approaches that have been successful in attracting and retaining undergraduate students in computer science.

Alice is free software from Carnegie Mellon University that allows students to build 3D movies and games using drag-and-drop programming, while Media Computation, developed at Georgia Tech, uses more traditional programming in Java to manipulate media. Media Computation students write programs to alter pictures or sounds, create linked lists of musical phrases, and more.

This combined approach builds on the advantages of Alice and Media Computation and is likely to create an appealing learning environment for students. “The goal of our investigation,” says Ericson, “is to develop a highly motivating first-year programming course using Alice that is naturally linked to traditional text-based programming through Media Computation.” A likely outcome will be an increase in the number of students who decide to major or minor in computer science, and an improved retention of first-year computer science majors.

The proposed curriculum is likely to also have a strong appeal to undergraduate faculty who are interested in using Alice as an introductory course, but are uncertain as to how to transition students to traditional text based programming. “This project leverages the popularity of Alice and the need to integrate with other CS classes through our Media Computation curricula.”

The NSF Division of Undergraduate Education awarded Ericson and Guzdial, along with Associate Professors Stephan Cooper (St. Joseph's University), Wanda Dann(Ithaca College), and Barbara Moskal (Colorado School of Mines) over $107,000 for the next two years.

For more information about the NSF CCLI, click here.