Who on earth is Alice?

Everyone, meet ALICE– a freeware program that teaches you how to write code almost without you realizing it. ALICE was the brain-child of the late Randy Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon, a man who saw problems in the way that “learning to code” was conceptualized by many subpopulations- particularly young girls. Alice 2.0 is the next generation of Alice where students play in a fairytale type world and learn to code simultaneously…and they enjoyed doing it. Statistically, young girls in the study were 44% more interested and motivated to code than they were previously. In addition, these students retained MORE of what they learnt.

I’m all for learning new skills and I always wanted to learn how to code (my brother is a software engineer geek), but like many others, I saw it as a pretty daunting task. Even from the get go there are so many questions you need to ask: what language do I want to code in? What exactly do I want to code for? etc etc. To all these questions, I’d quietly just think “Pffft, I just want to make cool stuff and seem like I know more about computers.” I would look at books and websites and try to figure out where to start…but then 10 minutes later I’d usually have put whatever resource I was attempting to absorb aside, and started to Sporcle or Skype or watch the newest episode of Californication. I couldn’t sustain my motivation.

ALICE helps sustain one’s motivation by helping you forget that you’re actually learning something. I sometimes find a similar phenomenon with learning new languages– if I present myself with an interesting way to learn it, I’m more likely to persist (like by switching the language on my favorite TV shows to Spanish without subtitles). As Gee mentions, motivation is a key factor in the sustained effort involved in learning something new and making an activity FUN can truly act as a motivational force.

Now don’t judge me for what I’m about to disclose, It’s mildly embarrassing to share this personal example of how a video game helped me learn a very basic skill SO much better. But here it is: honestly, I’m one of those people who has “issues” with map reading– I’m not the worst out there, but I have my moments even at the age of 21. I sometimes fulfill the stereotype of women being bad with directions. Thank fully I don’t fulfill the other pseudo-believed stereotype that women can’t/don’t want to play video games and allowed games like Assassin’s creed to help me understand how to orient myself within a map (without looking like Joey from Friend’s and actually stepping ONTO a paper map). I didn’t even realize I was getting better at directions and orienting myself spatially because I was having too much fun (and was far too frustrated) trying to utilize the map to complete my missions in the game.

So if anyone is thinking about learning how to code, you might want to check out ALICE or even code academy.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/09/computing-teaching-resources?newsfeed=true

As a parting comment, it’s intriguing to think about all the things we learn tangentially. Just stop for one second and think about how much you learnt about certain time periods from games like COD and Assassin’s Creed. I know I’m way too interested in the Borgia than I ever thought I would be. The power of tangential learning, right?

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