We had a new attendee this week. We have Trevor Nesbit visiting from Christchurch, New Zealand until the end of December. Hopefully we will find out a little more about his work in a later lab meeting, but for this meeting we let him off with a quick introduction and let him settle in and listen to Judith.

Judith was talking to the group about the results of a course she taught last year – Technology Enhanced Learning Environments (TELE). A core component of the course was a group project, and to help to make this project more interesting and relevant Judith asked contacts from a group called Digital Education Brighton to get involved. Three different schools came forward, and the groups were asked to go through the process of gathering requirements by a range of means and producing a motivating learning experience for secondary school children around programming. Judith had three of the finished projects that she wanted to share with us.

Project 1 was a very nicely produced set of resources for teachers, including YouTube tutorials and a PowerPoint self-guided learning system that lead the students through creating a small game in Scratch. The graphics were fantastic, although Judith felt that the material itself was somewhat behaviouralist and not particularly ground-breaking.

Project 2 was a great little game called Blobs, which made use of a puzzle-solving mechanic not unlike lemmings to explore the differences between classes and objects with properties and methods. A series of different types of blob with a variety of different properties and methods had to be used together to solve levels. Pejman had a little difficulty with the third level, so this is by no means straightforward! Again, high production values and a lot of thought had gone into this, but it would be interesting to see whether this did actually help children understand coding. Ben asked if in later levels they introduced actual code, which would be an obvious next step that hadn’t been completed.

Project 3 was awesome. Rather than teach programming (the school they were working with already did rather well at that) they looked at software design, with a particular emphasis on user-centred processes. It was a flash program (I’m hesitating to call it a game) that students could go through, collecting requirements from a school that needed a particular piece of software building. Different parts of the scenario required different data-gathering methods – e.g. A recorded message from the headmaster, a questionnaire for the parents, focus groups etc. There were extra bits of information available on all the methods in program, which was very polished. In addition to this, they had prepared lesson plans for the teacher, work sheets to go with the lesson plans, presentations for the teacher to go through for each lesson… It was extremely complete, and a very interesting angle to take on the problem.

Judith’s main problem is that she wants to make these resources available (along with others from other years), either for teachers to use as is, or for further development/modification. The obvious way to do this is via the web, and the group had a variety of suggestions for how that could be achieved (many featured undergraduate labour – if you are an undergraduate who fancies building this let us know!). It was good to hear about the course and the projects.

Next week features a change of venue, as the Interact Lab is being used for some teaching. We will therefore be colonising the IDEAs lab from 11-12 next Tuesday instead. We remembered biscuits for this week, so those frozen cakes still remain and will be out of reach next week. There’s a good chance the cakes will make it to Christmas at this rate!