A Culturally Tailored Approach to Accessible Computer Science

Background

          Culturally responsive education (CRE) involves

utilizing the traditional knowledge and experiences

of particular ethnic groups in order to explore problems

and solutions in a specific educational field. This new

field has gained a lot of traction in recent years in an

attempt to broaden the participation of underrepresented

minorities in theSTEM fields[1]. In an attempt to build

upon the progress made in culturally responsive

education, the leadership project I will introduce seeks

to incorporate videos of robot dance into an online game

that gradually teaches the fundamental principles of

computer science.

          Through pursuing graduation with leadership distinction (GLD) in research, I have learned the value of creative and unconventional thinking while conducting academic inquiry. For example though other approaches have incorporated single avenues to achieving culturally responsive education, this leadership project will seek to incorporate three individually successful approaches into one application with the hopes of maximizing engagement and perception among underrepresented minority students. With the experience that I have gained from conducting a Magellan project focusing solely on hip-hop and South Carolina residents, I will further implement a computer science game that incorporates a variety of musical genres and robotics in a way that is both fun and accessible to a broader range of students.

 

Why Dancing Robots?

I have learned that embracing interconnectedness is what breaks barriers and inspires innovation as shown in Key Insight 3 here. Dance is a universal domain that is extremely popular among a variety of populations. Robots have also been a growing tool used in many approaches that aim to fascinate and engage both children and adults [4]. By incorporating dancing robots into a computer science educational game, students are exposed to both what computer science is and how it can be applied in the real world. This intersection of concept and application is an efficient learning technique that I have seen in classes such as MATH 141: Calculus 1, where we created mathematical models to create the path of a roller coaster shown in the Key Insight 1 here. With my multiple GLD experiences, I have witnessed firsthand the increased engagement of children to science through interactions with robots. Whether it was an isolated research study during the school day or a FIRST robotics competition on the weekend, dancing robots got the job done.

 

The Importance

In order to increase the amount of students who pursue

STEM careers, specifically computer science, the

community must continue to find creative avenues to

expose and attract students to the fields. However, many

middle and high schools across the United States do not

have the necessary funds or resources to provide its

students with the proper exposure to computer science

that would stimulate the interest to pursue a career in

it [3]. This project will cater to many students who may

not have otherwise had the opportunity to be exposed to

the field of computer science in a way that is both

engaging and culturally relevant. The College Board figure above states that approximately 90% of parents want their students to learn computer science; yet, only 40% of schools nationwide provide some form of computer science education. Here lies the root of the problem, a problem too large to be resolved overnight. While the educational system continues to finds ways to supply this huge demand, this leadership project would help to at least expose those students who will not have the opportunity to even see computer science reach their high school classroom.

 

Part1: Development

The objective of Part I will be to design a computer science educational game that incorporates robot dance. The game will be broken up into levels, in which each level will include a new computer science topic in the form of a short video lesson and three follow-up questions. For each new level, there will be three learning objectives for the student. For example, a level in the game may be Flow Control and the three objectives would include Sequential Programming, Conditional Statements, and Looping Structures. The three questions following the video lesson will be directly derived from the objectives for that level. For each question that a student answers correctly, they unlock the dance moves associated with that question. The dance moves will be brief video clips of the NAO humanoid robot executing the dance move. The objective of the game is for the student to unlock as many robot dance moves as possible. Though the NAO is a commercial robot, I have learned that ordinary devices can have extraordinary applications, as the TI Sensors did in Key Insight 1 here. The physical robot may be too expensive for most secondary institution to purchase; however, videos of the physical robot ignite just as much interest in students for no cost at all. Upon the conclusion of the last level, the student will have the opportunity to use the computer science principles that they have learned to create a program that meshes their unlocked dance moves into their own complete dance sequence.

I am well suited to pursue this project due to my extensive experience in using the NAO humanoid robot as well as creating web-based applications. The training that I received in classes such as CSCE 520: Database Design and CSCE 350: Data Structures & Algorithms have provided me with the technical background and confidence to assure that I will produce a functional design. In fact, this research will be a continuation of a research project from my undergraduate senior year where I created a web-based application that utilized a hip-hop robot dance game to teach three computer science lessons to students. I highlight this project as a beyond the classroom experience in Key Insight 2 here. By incorporating more lessons, a larger range of dance moves, and a variety of genres, I hypothesize that the game can be tailored to reach an even broader range of students nationwide. Going beyond my prior work, this leadership experience will allow me to target students in and beyond South Carolina by turning the research edition of the game into an improved commercialized product that is accessible to anyone with an Internet connection and the URL. Though I plan to seek no profit from the game, I would love to see it gain popularity among students nationwide. This project would require a great deal of computational development going greatly past what I have currently developed and tested. I expect that development on this proposed commercial level would take approximately one to two year to fully complete and test; including three months for programming & recording of dances, three months for creating learning material, and six months for website/game programming and testing.

 

Part 2: Evaluation

            The objective of Part 2 will be to measure the students’ attitudes toward computer science before and after the student interacts with the game and to assess how many students the game has reached. These measures will be obtained through the administration of short pre- and post- questionnaires. The questionnaires will contain approximately 3-4 questions that pertain to the students’ perceptions of and openness to computer science.

Such questions may include:

  • Do you like computer science?  

  • Would you enjoy being a computer scientist?

  • Would you like to take a computer science class?

The survey will also allow students to provide non-identifiable information about themselves such as their city and state. With this information, I can evaluate where the game has reached and how often students in a particular area have played the game. My experiences gained in the process of pursuing GLD in research have prepared me to administer such surveys and analyze such data. If the data from the surveys show statistically significant increases in openness to computer science and evidence that the game is gaining traction across the nation, the game can in turn, be further promoted for its success and hopefully have lasting results on all of the students who come into contact with it. In addition, I could also conduct focus groups with students and facilitate discussions with teachers to further collect feedback about the game that can lead to more improvements and adaptability.

 

Conclusion

As the game will be publically available to anyone with a computer and Internet connection, this proposal will both provide and evaluate the effectiveness of using a culturally relevant game to introduce students to computer science nationwide. As my key insights describe my journey of gaining the necessary skills and preparation to execute a project of this caliber, I truly believe that this approach is both realistic and attainable. Through pursuing GLD in research, I have learned that research is about finding creative avenues to solving the problems around us. Inspiring the next generation of computer scientists will truly be a daunting task; but, with the right motivations, the scientific community can use culturally relevant approaches such as this proposed leadership project to teach students about computer science and hook them to the field in the process.

 

References:

[1] Eglash, R., Gilbert, J. E., & Foster, E. (2013). Toward culturally responsive computing education. Communications of the ACM, 56(7), 33-36.

 [2] Kelly-Jackson, C., & Jackson, T. (2011). Meeting their fullest potential: The beliefs and teaching of a culturally relevant science teacher. Creative Education, 2(4), 408-413.

[3] May, G. S., & Chubin, D., (2003). A retrospective on undergraduate engineering success for underrepresented minority students. Journal of Engineering Education, 92(1), 27-39.

 [4] Yoshida, S., Sakamoto, D., Sugiura, Y., Inami, M., & Igarashi, T. (2012). RoboJockey: robotic dance entertainment for all. In SIGGRAPH Asia 2012 Emerging Technologies, 19.

(Image from teachforamerica.com)

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