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Bringing Girls and Boys to Computer Science With 'alice'

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virtual world

Alice can be used to create virtual worlds.

Credit: Randy Pausch, Clifton Forlines / CMU

An animation program called Alice, developed by the late Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon University, is being used by computer scientists around the country to engage young students in computer programming by encouraging them to create their own worlds, without realizing they are actually writing code.

Duke University professor Susan Rodger says attracting females is key to the future of computer science. In 2008, only 11.8 percent of U.S. bachelor's degrees in computer science were awarded to women, according to the Computing Research Association. Rodger believes that Alice breaks down stereotypes about what computer science is, and gets students involved by challenging them with problems and allowing them to invent scenarios within virtual worlds that are created by the students and populated with the objects, animals, and characters that they choose. "It's a very easy way to learn programming if you've never done it before," she says. "It's hard to make mistakes. What you learn in the process are computer science concepts."

Rodger has introduced Alice in Durham-area middle schools, and the National Science Foundation has funded similar programs in Denver, San Jose, Charleston, S.C., and Oxford, Miss. Duke also is hosting Alice events for teachers, including a symposium and a series of workshops, to encourage them to incorporate Alice into their classes.

From Duke University News & Communications
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