This Cyberlearning Integration and Deployment (INDP) project brings together an interdisciplinary research team from the MIT Media Lab, the Digital Media and Learning Hub at University of California Irvine, and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society to explore development and use of new types of online tools, activities, and gatherings to engage more young people in developing computational fluency, particularly youth from groups currently underrepresented in computing. The project builds on the success of the NSF-funded Scratch programming language and online community, where more than 1.5 million young people have created interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations based on their interests. The Coding for All project aims to provide new pathways into Scratch for youth from populations that are not currently drawn in easily to technological and scientific discourse and activities. The PIs are designing and refining a variety of interest-based microworlds — introductory programming environments that are customized to particular interests of youngsters in those populations — to provide easier and more inviting entry points for getting started with coding, and they aim to develop guidelines for designing microworlds that are simple enough not to be overwhelming, engaging enough to draw youngsters in, rich enough to allow creative expression, and tuned well enough to the interests and prior knowledge of new participants to foster curiosity and learning. In addition, the team is exploring how to use personnel in libraries and other spaces where low-income youth congregate to support initial introduction to and engagement with these microworlds and developing and refining tools to support interest-based on-line hangouts and unconferences, where young people who become engaged through these microworlds can meet peers and mentors to share ideas, form collaborations, and increase their programming and expressive capabilities. The PIs are collecting much data about the engagement and participation of youngsters, the development of their skills and understanding, and the development of their interests, and their analysis will contribute to deeper understanding of needed supports, pathways, and outcomes related to computational fluency.
This project addresses the need to draw in and promote learning among those in populations not served well by current educational practices and important national priorities in workforce development, equity, and the need for a technologically fluent public. The project’s tools and activities will provide alternative pathways into coding, increasing opportunities for young people in non-dominant communities to develop computational fluency. The focus on public libraries explores how to use public educational institutions most geared towards serving the technology needs and diverse interests of non-dominant communities in taking advantage of new online learning opportunities. The findings from this research will inform researchers and practitioners concerned with STEM-related learning, online educational resources, equity in education, and cyberlaw.