Abstract and Figures

Coding games, both computer-based and "unplugged" ones, have been increasingly used over the past years to promote code literacy and to bring basic programming concepts to the larger public, in particular to children in preschool , elementary, and middle school ages. Chatbots on instant messaging (IM) platforms provide a modern and friction-free interface that allow software developers to instantly connect with a wide audience, making use of familiar conversational interface patterns. "Code Hunting Games" is a chatbot-based multiplayer game, which engages multiple teams in a "treasure hunt" guided by a Telegram bot. On their track to the treasure, teams are challenged with a sequence of coding puzzles that must be solved using the conversational interface. At the same time, teams must move through physical space in order to reach geographical locations marked by a code, as indicated by the bot. In this paper we present the implementation of the game and describe several large-scale deployments, including one Europe-wide game session during Code Week 2017 with more than 160 competing teams. The system is freely available online for custom game sessions. We discuss the game's impact, in terms of engagement for children in particular, lessons learned during development and deployment, and future work.
Content may be subject to copyright.
X MARKS THE BOT: ONLINE CODING-BASED
TREASURE HUNT GAMES FOR CODE LITERACY
Lorenz Cuno Klopfenstein, Saverio Delpriori,
Brendan Dominic Paolini, Alessandro Bogliolo
DiSPeA, University of Urbino (ITALY)
cuno.klopfenstein@uniurb.it
Abstract
Coding games, both computer-based and “unplugged” ones, have been increasingly used over the past
years to promote code literacy and to bring basic programming concepts to the larger public, in particular
to children in pre-school, elementary, and middle school ages.
Chatbots on instant messaging (IM) platforms provide a modern and friction-free interface that allow
software developers to instantly connect with a wide audience, making use of familiar conversational
interface patterns.
“Code Hunting Games” is a chatbot-based multiplayer game, which engages multiple teams in a
“treasure hunt” guided by a Telegram bot. On their track to the treasure, teams are challenged with a
sequence of coding puzzles that must be solved using the conversational interface. At the same time,
teams must move through physical space in order to reach geographical locations marked by a code,
as indicated by the bot.
In this paper we present the implementation of the game and describe several large-scale deployments,
including one Europe-wide game session during Code Week 2017 with more than 160 competing teams.
The system is freely available online for custom game sessions.
We discuss the games impact, in terms of engagement for children in particular, lessons learned during
development and deployment, and future work.
Keywords: code literacy; coding challenge; messaging bot; treasure hunt; mixed reality
1 INTRODUCTION
Modern computational tools and digital instruments are ubiquitous and pervasive in our lives. Most jobs
on the modern workplace require some degree of digital skills, which vary from basic control over IT
tools to more complex computer-based workflows. In many cases, such workflows can be hard to grasp
for many workers because of a lack of core IT competencies. This pervasive lack of digital skills has
been largely reported to be a threat to the economy and it has been shown that a large percentage of
the population can be described as “digitally disadvantaged” [1, 2]. Moreover, studies have shown that
the lack of digital skills leads to compound and sequential digital exclusion, resulting in even higher
disadvantages if these fundamental skills are not developed [3].
Over the last years many coding literacy campaigns have been launched, including the Europe Code
Week, which has been promoted by the European Commission since 2013. However, learning to code
is a difficult endeavor that requires focused training and relies on a large gamut of abilities, including
logic, problem-solving, abstraction, and creativity [4]. The development of these fundamental skills and
of so-called “computational thinking” have been shown to have a positive impact that is not limited to
coding alone [5, 6].
In the context of these learning initiatives different innovative tools have been developed and promoted:
many rely on online web-based solutions that allow students to experiment with block-based
programming [7].Other developed tools include “unplugged” activities, which do not require electronic
devices and thus grants full accessibility and immediacy [8]. Games of this kind can be commuted to
virtual reality experiences to improve engagement [9] or played within immersive large-scale
events [10].
Novel technologies to be considered include conversational agents for modern messaging platforms
(such as Telegram, Facebook Messenger, or Skype). These so-called “bots” provide a friction-free
communication channel to a huge audience [11] and offers an enticing platform to offer services and
access to software through the familiar and simple interface of text messaging [12]. Messaging bots as
a software platform sport many advantages, including their simplicity, accessibility, and efficiency. As
instant messaging (IM) tools are already widely used by both teachers and students [13], they can be
adopted and used with no special training or supervision. Possible IM bot applications are wide-ranging
and include entertainment, communication, access to services, quiz-based games, and education [14].
2 CODE HUNTING GAMES
In this paper we propose an online game based on an instant messaging bot and inspired by treasure
hunt game schemes. Players must find hidden objects or places by following a series of clues obtained
by solving puzzles. In Code Hunting Games” this classical paradigm is transported in a mixed-reality
scenario, where a Telegram bot manages the game and player teams have to find hidden physical
tokens located in different places, following the directions the bot provides.
The Telegram bot @treasurehuntbot is freely available to players and game organizers. Documentation
can be found on the official website: http://codehunting.games.
2.1 Player roles
“Code Hunting Games” is played in teams. Each team has to be composed by at least two participants.
One of the players takes over the role of team leader for each team.
Figure 1. Configuration of a game instance.
As outlined in Figure 1, the bot interacts through a one-to-one chat with each team. The team leader is
responsible of communicating with the game bot (i.e., the leader will control the team’s smartphone and
will most likely use his or her Telegram account). A public Telegram channel is provided where the bot
or the game organizers will communicate important announcements or to give updates on the progress
of individual teams. Any player, not only team leaders, can join the public channel and receive updates.
Before starting the game, each team is required to register providing (a) their team name, (b) the number
of team members participating, (c) a group selfie or image representing the team, (d) the correct solution
to a “warm up” coding quiz (this serves bot as a captcha verification and prepares the team for the kind
of coding challenges they will receive during the game). After these 4 steps the team is ready to play.
2.2 In-game mechanics
Game sessions can be divided into multiple steps, all guided through a conversation with the bot, as
shown in Figure 2.
At each step, the team is assigned a specific location to reach and where to go searching for a hidden
QR Code (usually printed on paper or plastic). The QR Code contains a so-called deep-link that, once
scanned by means of a smartphone camera, seamlessly redirects the user directly to the Telegram bot
chat. Through the use of specifically encoded deep-links, the bot can interact with players and be aware
of their current location.
Once a team reaches their intended destination, the bot asks the players to take a group selfie and to
send it. This is required as a proof of the full team reaching the location (even if the verification is not
automated and must be done by the organizers).
Additionally, selfies are also automatically forwarded by the
bot to the public channel, in order to provide updates about
the game’s progress.
The bot prompts the players with a random coding puzzle.
Players who solve the puzzle are assigned a new destination
along with a hint they will use in the last step of the game.
Destinations are represented as pinpoints on a map andin
case of outdoor gamesare associated with a pair of
geographical coordinates that players can use in their
navigation system.
When a team reaches the last randomly assigned location
and thus solves the last coding puzzleplayers are directed
to a predetermined last location where they will be asked to
complete the last puzzle. This final puzzle is based on all
previous hints shared during the course of the game. The
team who first solves the last puzzle wins the game.
Each game session can be organized as an isolated event
or it can be part of a shared event of larger scope, wherein
multiple teams, across a possibly very wide area (e.g., the
whole European territory), challenge each other while
playing synchronously in different local game sessions.
2.3 Coding puzzles
At each step of the game, after reaching a location and
snapping a selfie, players are required to solve simple
coding-based puzzles. Questions are always composed by
an image and some text. Solutions, on the other hand, are
always provided in text-only form. This allows the bot to
validate the player’s answer simply by performing string
matching with the expected response.
In the current “Code Hunting Games” sessions, puzzles are always based on the “CodyRoby” action
cards metaphor [8] and on grid-based movement. Figure 3 shows some of the standard coding puzzles
used during the game.
Figure 3. Examples of standard coding puzzles used during the game.
Figure 2. A sample conversation
between team leader and bot.
2.4 Game creation and management
The messaging bot also provides a conversational interface that allows any user to generate a custom
“Code Hunting Games” session. The game creation process is started by following a special “deep link”,
which activates the bot and collects basic game information: (a) the game session’s title, (b) contact
information of the game’s administrator, (c) the public Telegram channel used by the bot to publish
updates (including the participants’ selfies) during the game, (d) the start location where the game will
begin, (e) the predetermined end location where teams will converge to when completing the game,
(f) a sequence of intermediate locations (which will be picked randomly for each team during the game).
Locations can be specified to the bot either by using the default location-sharing facilities in Telegram
(which allows the user to drag a pinpoint on a map) or by writing the location’s coordinates as a text
message.
Administrators also have the option to completely disable the automatic selfie forwarding on the public
channel: this is intended to protect the privacy of teams, which may include minors or persons not willing
to share their pictures on a public Telegram channel. In this case the bot will publish only text-only
updates to the channel.
Once the creation process is completed, the bot will prepare the game session and generate a set of
PDF files containing the QR Codes. A separate PDF will be generated for the start location, the end
location, and each intermediate location. A special QR Code will be generated that allows teams to
register and another one will allow teams to start the game. Game organizers will then have to print the
PDFs and install the printed QR Codes in the target locations in preparation of the actual game session.
Moreover, the bot offers a set of Telegram commands, available to the game administrator only, that
allow to gather information about the overall status and the status of individual teams.
3 RESULTS AND EVALUATION
In this paper we presented a novel team-based multiplayer game that merges the paradigm of classical
treasure hunt games, the interaction with an IM bot, and coding-based challenges, in a mixed-reality
experience. Game sessions can engage any number of teams. Single game sessions may also be
organized in the context of a large-scale event.
“Code Hunting Games” was first presented publicly during the “Coding in your Classroom, now!” summer
school in Urbino (Italy), 2227 August 2016. Subsequently the game was further developed and
frequently adopted to provide engaging learning sessions for primary and secondary school teachers
and their pupils during coding summer schools or field trips.
On 14 October 2017 an international “Code Hunting Game” event was organized, with multiple game
sessions running in parallel in several European countries. All game sessions, locally organized by
ambassadors of the EU Code Week initiative, started together at 11:00 CET, featuring the same puzzles
and an equal number of locations to reach. A total of 22 parallel game sessions were organized, with
more than 160 teams and approximately 1000 individual participants competing with each other. A full
account of the event is available on the Code Week blog
1
.
Figure 4. Montage of team selfies collected during the summer school in Urbino (2017).
The game’s bot will continue being available at @treasurehuntbot on Telegram. The official project
website provides documentation and guides, while the bot’s source code has been released on GitHub:
https://github.com/CodeMOOC/TreasureHuntBot.
1
Code Week Treasure hunt report: http://blog.codeweek.eu/post/166975540609/the-codehunting-game-more-than-1000-people
3.1 Player and administrator survey
An evaluation survey was sent to ambassadors and organizers that have contributed to the Code Week
event of 14 October 2017, in addition to members of the CodeMOOC community, composed in large
part by elementary and secondary school teachers
2
. The survey contained general questions, details
about participation and usage, a set of statements to evaluate with a rating based on a Likert scale, and
optional comments about the game.
A total of 67 survey responses were collected. The majority of respondents are over 35 years old, with
an average between 46 and 55 years. 93% of respondents are female, while 94% of them are
professionally involved in a full-time teaching job. 30% of respondents were present during the first game
launch in 26 August 2016.
Figure 5. Results of the evaluation for players.
A set of statements to evaluate from the point of view of “Code Hunting Games” players was provided,
with responses ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”. The statements to evaluate and the
collected responses are shown in Figure 5. Statements linked to ease of use and enjoyment of the game
and of the bot (“It’s a fun game”, “The game is easy to play”, “Instructions are clear”, etc.) have been
evaluated very positively.
In general players described the game as being well-centered on coding and provided very high ratings
for team play and the improvement of skills. Results indicate that the puzzles could probably be more
challenging. Not many players would prefer challenges based on writing code instead of simple
question/answer puzzles, even if several players otherwise suggested to add more variety to the coding
challenges.
Interestingly, players generally liked that the game is delivered through an IM bot and the majority
wouldnt prefer a bot provided through a messaging platform other than Telegram.
In Figure 6 survey responses for statements about the game administration process are shown.
Responses were generally very positive, with some room for improvement in the area of team
management, in particular getting an overview of the game during play and solving problems that teams
might have. While responses confirm that the game creation interface was evaluated positively, it can
2
Facebook group, with more than 25,000 members as of February 2018: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CodeMOOC/
be argued that getting an overview of a running game through a bot conversation can be a cumbersome
experience.
Future work on the system will aim at improvements in the conversational interface, possibly with the
addition of a web-based control panel for administrators for improved clarity and information density.
Figure 6. Results of the survey for game administrators.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors wish to thank all members of the CodeMOOC community and all participants that have
tested “Code Hunting Games” since the first run in 2016 and all users that have taken part in the online
survey.
REFERENCES
[1]
R. Cellan-Jones, "More than 12 million fall into UK digital skills gap," BBC, 2015.
[2]
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and
Ed Vaizey, "Digital skills for the UK economy," UK Government, 2016.
[3]
A. J. A. M. van Deursen, E. Helsper, R. Eynon and J. A. G. M. van Dijk, "Compound and Sequential
Digital Exclusion: Internet Skills, Uses, and Outcomes," in Proceedings of the 66th Annual
Conference of the International Communication Association, 2016.
[4]
J. Du, H. Wimmer and R. Rada, "“Hour of Code”: A Case Study," in Proceedings of the EDSIG
Conference, 2017.
[5]
C. Duncan, T. Bell and S. Tanimoto, "Should your 8-year-old learn coding?," in Proceedings of the
9th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, 2014.
[6]
M. Sabatini, "Learning geometry and visuo-spatial abilities through coding," Form@reOpen
Journal per la formazione in rete, vol. 16, pp. 201-212, 2016.
[7]
D. Weintrop and U. Wilensky, "Comparing Block-Based and Text-Based Programming in High
School Computer Science Classrooms," ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE), vol.
18, p. 3, 2017.
[8]
A. Bogliolo, "Unplugged language-neutral card games as an inclusive instrument to develop
computational thinking skills," in INTED2015 Proceedings, Madrid, 2015.
[9]
L. C. Klopfenstein, A. Fedosyeyev and A. Bogliolo, "Bringing an unplugged coding card game to
augmented reality," in INTED2017 Proceedings (11th International Technology, Education and
Development Conference), 2017.
[10]
A. Bogliolo, S. Delpriori, L. C. Klopfenstein and B. D. Paolini, "Immersive Coding: Innovative tools
and formats for large-scale coding events," in EDULEARN16 Proceedings, Barcelona, 2016.
[11]
A. Battestini, V. Setlur and T. Sohn, "A large scale study of text-messaging use," in Proceedings
of the 12th international conference on Human computer interaction with mobile devices and
services, 2010.
[12]
L. C. Klopfenstein, S. Delpriori, S. Malatini and A. Bogliolo, "The Rise of Bots: A Survey of
Conversational Interfaces, Patterns, and Paradigms," in Proceedings of the 2017 Conference on
Designing Interactive Systems, Edinburgh, 2017.
[13]
D. Bouhnik and M. Deshen, "WhatsApp goes to school: Mobile instant messaging between
teachers and students," Journal of Information Technology Education: Research, vol. 13, pp. 217-
231, 2014.
[14]
L. C. Klopfenstein and A. Bogliolo, "The Quiz-Master Bot: a persistent augmented quiz delivered
through online messaging," in INTED2017 Proceedings (11th International Technology, Education
and Development Conference), Valencia, 2017.
... sification in the development of virtual assistants in conjunction with user positioning in which tourism and recommendation are central, since both together account for two-thirds of the papers in the first group (18/27, 67%).A third application domain is education(Cai, Yu, & Chen, 2013;Doumanis & Smith, 2015;Eiris-Pereira & Gheisari, 2018;Klopfenstein, Delpriori, Paolini, & Bogliolo, 2018b), often combined with entertainment or gamified aspects(Doumanis & Smith, 2015;Klopfenstein et al., 2018b). The use of geoinformation resources is varied, ranging from space-time immersion in a building information modeling (BIM) environment (seeLiu et al., 2017 for a general description of BIM in geospatial scenarios) to improved communication skills in a construction scenario(Eiris-Pereira & Gheisari, 2018), to better understanding the concepts around spatial operations(Cai et al., 2013), ...
... sification in the development of virtual assistants in conjunction with user positioning in which tourism and recommendation are central, since both together account for two-thirds of the papers in the first group (18/27, 67%).A third application domain is education(Cai, Yu, & Chen, 2013;Doumanis & Smith, 2015;Eiris-Pereira & Gheisari, 2018;Klopfenstein, Delpriori, Paolini, & Bogliolo, 2018b), often combined with entertainment or gamified aspects(Doumanis & Smith, 2015;Klopfenstein et al., 2018b). The use of geoinformation resources is varied, ranging from space-time immersion in a building information modeling (BIM) environment (seeLiu et al., 2017 for a general description of BIM in geospatial scenarios) to improved communication skills in a construction scenario(Eiris-Pereira & Gheisari, 2018), to better understanding the concepts around spatial operations(Cai et al., 2013), ...
Article
Virtual assistants are a growing area of research in academia and industry, with an impact on people’s daily lives. Many disciplines in science are moving towards the incorporation of intelligent virtual assistants in multiple scenarios and application domains, and GIScience is not external to this trend since they may be connected to intelligent spatial decision support systems. This article presents a scoping review to indicate relevant literature pertinent to intelligent virtual assistants and their usage of geospatial information and technologies. In particular, the study was designed to find critical aspects of GIScience and how to contribute to the development of virtual assistants. Moreover, this work explores the most prominent research lines as well as relevant technologies/platforms to determine the main challenges and current limitations regarding the use and implementation of virtual assistants in geospatial‐related fields. As a result, this review shows the current state of geospatial applications regarding the use of intelligent virtual assistants, as well as revealing gaps and limitations in the use of spatial methods, standards, and resources available in spatial data infrastructures to develop intelligent decision systems based on virtual assistants for a wide array of application domains.
... In eight of the studies (i.e., Gomes et al., 2018;Klopfenstein et al., 2018aKlopfenstein et al., , 2018bLeifheit et al., 2018;Spieler et al., 2019;Tsarava et al., 2018aTsarava et al., , 2018bTsarava et al., , 2019, evidence was reported on the impact of "games" as an unplugged approach to convey the basic concepts of CT, as well as improvement in "engagement" (n = 3). Games also emerged as implementation approaches in three other studies where the results reported positive experiences. ...
Article
The computer science (CS) unplugged approach intends to teach CS concepts and computational thinking skills without employing any digital tools. The current study conducted a systematic literature review to analyze research studies that conducted investigations related to implementations of CS unplugged activities. A systematic review procedure was developed and applied to detect and subsequently review relevant research studies published from 2010 to 2019. It was found that 55 research studies (17 articles + 38 conference proceedings) satisfied the inclusion criteria for the analysis. These research studies were then examined with regard to their demographic characteristics, research methodologies, research results, and main findings. It was found that the unplugged approach was realized and utilized differently among researchers. The majority of the studies used the CS unplugged term when referring to “paper–pencil activities,” “problem solving,” “storytelling,” “games,” “tangible programming,” and even “robotics.”
... How might one begin to evaluate the efficacy of Hour of Code activities to indicate how many participants are in Flow? Previous Hour of Code research has looked at student retention throughout a given activity to provide just-in-time information [23] and student engagement through qualitative measures [17]. The Retention of Flow is a method of evaluating these cyberlearning activities based on student retention [27,33]. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The creation of computer science tutorials is becoming critically important as hundreds of millions of students each year get their first CS experience through self-directed online activities. Creating a "cliffhanger" activity, with high engagement during and motivation to continue learning post activity, is a balancing act. If tutorials provide too much detailed information, users may be able to follow instructions but can feel overwhelmed or bored. On the other hand, tutorials that do not sufficiently explain crucial steps risk frustrating users who might drop out of the activity. Zones of Proximal Flow (ZPF) tutorials are simple to create and provide a navigation structure of differentiated instruction allowing users to choose appropriate detail based on their self-assessed state of flow, from bored to anxious. Using Retention of Flow analysis, two Hour of Code game design tutorials were analyzed: a sophisticated online tutorial for the creation of Frogger, and a simple ZPF tutorial for the creation of Pac-Man. One hope was that the simple ZPF Pac-Man tutorial would not do much worse than the sophisticated Frogger tutorial, but surprisingly the ZPF Pac-Man tutorial significantly outperformed the Frogger tutorial in terms of student retention. The Pac-Man tutorial also displayed a high student motivation to continue programming past the end of differentiated instruction.
... In this perspective, Coding can be included in all the disciplinary teaching activities for each school moment. The policy conducted by the Italian Minister of Education is in line with that of the European Commission which drafted the Digital Education Action Plan (https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/education/files/digital-education-action-plan.pdf), with the goal that by 2020 at least 50% of European schools would take part in Europe Code Week, the campaign for the diffusion of computational thinking (Klopfenstein et al., 2018). As a result, in the last three years the number of Italian teachers who use coding in the classroom has grown through appropriate programming environments. ...
Article
Full-text available
In the curriculum of the Italian secondary school, in the last decade, there has been a renewed interest in the practice of programming, also due to the recent national reforms based on the recommendations of the European Parliament in 2006. The Maths and Programming project was born with the intention of encouraging the exploration of concepts and properties typical of mathematics through the use of programming. Research literature in mathematics education has shown how the practice of programming helps students develop reasoning, intuition and problem-solving skills. In this perspective, this paper presents the general lines of the project and a didactic activity realized in a first-year Middle school class (age 11-12 years) through the practice of programming using Python programming language.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
This work documents the recent rise in popularity of messaging bots: chatterbot-like agents with simple, textual interfaces that allow users to access information, make use of services, or provide entertainment through online messaging platforms. Conversational interfaces have been often studied in their many facets, including natural language processing, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, and usability. In this work we analyze the recent trends in chatterbots and provide a survey of major messaging platforms, reviewing their support for bots and their distinguishing features. We then argue for what we call "Botplication", a bot interface paradigm that makes use of context, history, and structured conversation elements for input and output in order to provide a conversational user experience while overcoming the limitations of text-only interfaces.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The recent spread of coding literacy initiatives, such as Hour of Code, Europe Code Week, or Africa Code Week, have underlined the growing importance and interest for computational thinking, often channeled through the use of innovative teaching tools, which foster creativity, collaboration, and interactivity. Learning coding notions is generally tied to the use of computers or other electronic devices, and most recent educational tools are based on online visual programming platforms, which may lead to discrimination because of the digital divide, the lack of sufficient infrastructure, or cultural and linguistic barriers. However, many code learning activities can be performed in an “unplugged” scenario, often with as little as a pencil and some paper. In fact, CodyRoby is an example of a do-it-yourself unplugged programming kit, published in the end of 2014. Through the use of color-coded cards, inspired by the building blocks of visual programming tools, and the use of intuitive symbols instead of words, the kit enables various fully inclusive coding experiences. In this work we present a smartphone-based augmented reality system that empowers this simple tool and transforms a CodyRoby session into an immersive experience. A printable additional kit of markers allow a smartphone app to detect game components, such as the chessboard on which to play, and to present additional gaming elements on screen or to draw customizable decorative elements to stimulate engagement and creativity, especially in younger players. Several different game modes are presented and discussed. The suitability of the system to intimate, small-scale, or even large-scale coding events is also discussed.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Chatterbots, or bots, have recently enjoyed a dramatic comeback: these automated agents, communicating with users through the exchange of simple text messages, have overtaken most online messaging platforms and are increasingly used to provide means to access information or to make use of services. Because of the pervasive popularity of messaging platforms, as they represent the main driver in smartphone usage across all demographics, bots represent an attractive development platform with direct access to a large number of users and a very low access barrier. Many bot platforms allow the creation of special hyperlinks that invoke a particular dialogue with the bot. These hyperlinks can be presented to users digitally as URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers) or visually as QR Codes that can be embedded in digital media or bound to a physical object or a geographical location. In both cases, hyperlinks may carry additional information, providing valuable context, while enabling a seamless transition to the conversation with the bot. In this work we describe a system that makes use of an automated data collection bot that delivers quiz questions to users. Hyperlinks are used to determine the question asked, for instance ensuring their sequence or tying them to a specific document. The system can work both synchronously during live events and asynchronously through persistent links. We also present two large-scale events during which this system has been used to coördinate online educational coding quizzes and describe the implemented system in detail, illustrating its effectiveness and its gaming mechanics, and also discussing strengths and weaknesses of the proposed system. We argue that the bot-aided coding quiz and its game mechanics could be applied profitably to many other educational events or data collection tasks.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The importance of coding as an instrument to develop computational thinking has motivated the proliferation of worldwide coding literacy campaigns, including Hour of Code, Europe Code Week, and Africa Code Week, endorsed by tech companies, governative organizations, and influential personalities. The success of these campaigns has been bolstered by the use of playful teaching tools, such as Scratch and Code.org, that encourage interactivity in teaching, foster creativity, and give participants a sense of agency. While the initiatives are generally promoted through schools, the teaching process is often brought outside of the traditional classroom, in fact encouraging situations where teachers and students collaborate together, in an informal setting, in order to improve their coding skills. Exercises proposed through these tools are often presented in terms of a game or a puzzle to stimulate engagement. However, this approach to teaching is still bound to a one-to-one model, where students learn alone or in small groups. Our proposed vision is to transform the teaching of coding into a mass phenomenon. By leveraging the collaborative nature of the learning process, we envision large scale events that capitalize on the success of these initiatives and push the boundaries even further. In this paper we describe an interactive, in-presence event format that has been put in practice in early 2016. This format introduces computational thinking and algorithmic problem solving to larger audiences by presenting coding puzzles in an enticing way. The setup adopted is inspired by the de-facto standard coding puzzles introduced by Scratch and Code.org, in which users are challenged to create small programs by combining a set of provided visual instructions, the effect of which is directly shown on a side panel. In particular it follows the original Hour of Code scheme, where a main character (the "actor") navigates a chessboard with obstacles and traps, in order to reach a goal through the execution of a program. The format requires the presence of a facilitator on stage, directing the game. A physical chessboard is also required, for instance as a grid drawn on the stage floor, on which stands an actor picked from the audience. Through video projection, the chessboard is displayed on the main screen, where a virtual chessboard composed of obstacles, traps, and goals is overlaid, creating an augmented-reality-like configuration. Movements and interactions of the actor appear to the audience as if they were performed on the screen. Each turn starts with the facilitator designing a maze. The crowd proceeds to implement an algorithm to solve it, effectively acting as a programmer. The algorithm is built and displayed using a visual programming tool shown on screen, while the crowd give hints to the facilitator using an instant polling mechanism. Then the crowd acts as a program interpreter, by calling out each step of the algorithm to let the actor execute it on the physical chessboard, which confirms or disproves the validity of the solution. Both the video setup, the game's implementation, and technical details are presented and discussed in the paper. Finally, the first of the events based on this format, held in Urbino on March 2nd 2016, is described, in terms of participation and involvement.
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Text messaging has become a popular form of communication with mobile phones worldwide. We present findings from a large scale text messaging study of 70 university students in the United States. We collected almost 60, 000 text messages over a period of 4 months using a custom logging tool on our participants' phones. Our re- sults suggest that students communicate with a large number of contacts for extended periods of time, engage in simultaneous conversations with as many as 9 contacts, and often use text messaging as a method to switch between a variety of communication mediums. We also explore the content of text messages, and ways text message habits have changed over the last decade as it has become more popular. Finally, we offer design suggestions for future mobile communication tools.
Article
The number of students taking high school computer science classes is growing. Increasingly, these students are learning with graphical, block-based programming environments either in place of or prior to traditional text-based programming languages. Despite their growing use in formal settings, relatively little empirical work has been done to understand the impacts of using block-based programming environments in high school classrooms. In this article, we present the results of a 5-week, quasi-experimental study comparing isomorphic block-based and text-based programming environments in an introductory high school programming class. The findings from this study show students in both conditions improved their scores between pre- and postassessments; however, students in the blocks condition showed greater learning gains and a higher level of interest in future computing courses. Students in the text condition viewed their programming experience as more similar to what professional programmers do and as more effective at improving their programming ability. No difference was found between students in the two conditions with respect to confidence or enjoyment. The implications of these findings with respect to pedagogy and design are discussed, along with directions for future work.
Conference Paper
There has been considerable interest in teaching "coding" to primary school aged students, and many creative "Initial Learning Environments" (ILEs) have been released to encourage this. Announcements and commentaries about such developments can polarise opinions, with some calling for widespread teaching of coding, while others see it as too soon to have students learning industry-specific skills. It is not always clear what is meant by teaching coding (which is often used as a synonym for programming), and what the benefits and costs of this are. Here we explore the meaning and potential impact of learning coding/programming for younger students. We collect the arguments for and against learning coding at a young age, and review the initiatives that have been developed to achieve this (including new languages, school curricula, and teaching resources). This leads to a set of criteria around the value of teaching young people to code, to inform curriculum designers, teachers and parents. The age at which coding should be taught can depend on many factors, including the learning tools used, context, teacher training and confidence, culture, specific skills taught, how engaging an ILE is, how much it lets students explore concepts for themselves, and whether opportunities exist to continue learning after an early introduction.
More than 12 million fall into UK digital skills gap
  • R Cellan-Jones
R. Cellan-Jones, "More than 12 million fall into UK digital skills gap," BBC, 2015.
Compound and Sequential Digital Exclusion: Internet Skills, Uses, and Outcomes
  • A J A M Van Deursen
  • E Helsper
  • R Eynon
  • J A G M Van Dijk
A. J. A. M. van Deursen, E. Helsper, R. Eynon and J. A. G. M. van Dijk, "Compound and Sequential Digital Exclusion: Internet Skills, Uses, and Outcomes," in Proceedings of the 66th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, 2016.