Computer Science Colloquium

Storytelling Alice: presenting programming as a means to the end of storytelling

Caitlin Kelleher
Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, March 19th 11:15 a.m.
Room 1302 Warren Weaver Hall
251 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012-1185

Colloquium Information:


Richard Cole, (212) 998-3119


The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) estimates that the number of incoming college students intending to major in computer science has dropped by 70% since 2000, despite the fact that the projected need for computer scientists continues to grow. Increasing the numbers of female students who pursue computer science has the potential both to help fill projected computing jobs and improve the technology we create by diversifying the viewpoints that influence technology design. Numerous studies have found that girls begin to turn away from math and science related disciplines, including computer science, during middle school. By the end of eighth grade, twice as many boys as girls are interested in pursuing science, engineering, or technology based careers.

In this talk, I will describe the development of Storytelling Alice, a programming environment that gives middle school girls a positive first experience with computer programming. Rather than presenting programming as an end in itself, Storytelling Alice presents programming as a means to the end of storytelling, a motivating activity for a broad spectrum of middle school girls. More than 250 girls participated in the formative user testing of Storytelling Alice. To determine girls’ storytelling needs, I observed girls interacting with successive versions of Storytelling Alice and analyzed their storyboards and the programs they developed. To enable and encourage middle school girls to create the kinds of stories they envision, Storytelling Alice includes high-level animations that enable users to program social interaction between characters, a gallery of 3D objects designed to spark story ideas, and a story-based tutorial presented using Stencils, a  novel tutorial interaction technique.

To determine the impact of the storytelling focus on girls’ interest in and success at learning to program, I conducted a study comparing the experiences of girls introduced to programming using Storytelling Alice with those of girls introduced to programming using a version of Alice without storytelling features (Generic Alice). Participants who used Storytelling Alice and Generic Alice were equally successful at learning basic programming concepts. However, I found that users of Storytelling Alice show more evidence of engagement with programming. Storytelling Alice users spent 42% more time programming and were more than three times as likely to sneak extra time to continue working on their programs (51% of Storytelling Alice users vs. 16% of Generic Alice users snuck extra time). I will conclude by discussing future directions for introducing programming through storytelling as well as other potential contexts for storytelling.

Refreshments will be served

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