Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Motivating Programming:
Using Storytelling to Make Computer Programming
Attractive to Middle School Girls

Caitlin Kelleher

November 2006

Ph.D. Thesis (Computer Science)


Also appears as Computer Science Department
Technical Report CMU-CS-06-171

Keywords: Programming environments, gender, computer science education, motivation, storytelling, Alice, Stencils

Women are currently under-represented in computer science. Increasing the numbers of female students who pursue computer science has the potential both to improve the technology we create by diversifying the viewpoints that influence technology design and to help fill projected computing jobs. 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 thesis, I describe 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, an motivating activity for a broad spectrum of middle school girls. The development of Storytelling Alice was informed by formative user testing with more than 250 middle school aged girls. To determine girls°« storytelling needs, I observed girls interacting with Storytelling Alice and analyzed their storyboards and the story 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 social interaction between characters, a gallery of 3D objects designed to spark story ideas, and a story-based tutorial presented using Stencils, a new 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).

391 pages

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