Eurídice Cabañes
  Scratch
 

Scratch: Learning the grammar for a new language


Eurídice Cabañes ARSGAMES, Spain
Luca Carrubba ARSGAMES, Spain



Abstract
: Videogames, as a new and playful interactive language, have great potential in the education field. On the one hand, we can find educational videogames to cover almost the whole spectrum of topics offered by colleges and academies, (although they are used mainly at home and not in the academic environment). On the other hand, playing videogames is in itself a recreational way to generate technical competencies and teach the use of a whole new ‘digital language’. Depending on different countries and cultures, there is a tendency to implement this technology in educational centres in varying degrees. In order to exemplify this implementation, we will look at “Scratch”, a creative videogame program for children with a big community behind it. In the conclusion we focus on the introduction of videogames language in educational context not as educational videogames, but as a tool to learn digital literacy and contemporary society.
 

1. INTRODUCTION


As the 20th century has passed technology has obtained increasing importance in our daily life becoming a principal way to obtain information about the world and to communicate with other people. Technology is so important nowadays that is almost impossible to describe humanity without talking about its technological facet. Our world is becoming more technological each day. At this moment we are living in the transition from an analogue technology paradigm to a digital paradigm. We are immersed in what Lévy and Kerckhove (1999) define as the “third age of communication”, in which “a new language has taken shape that is even more universal than the alphabet, i.e. the digital language. An age that has followed those of orality and of writing”.

This has multiple implications but in this article we are going to focus on how this technological environment influences education. We will explore how education in this new environment is immersed in a paradigm change in two fundamental ways: through the emergence of a new language and through the idea of ‘information saturation’.

1.1. New languages:

The so-called “new media”, based on the technological advances derived from the digitalization of contents, have brought about a revolution in the domain of audiovisual languages. This implies not only that a new type of content is being developed, but -simultaneously and inextricably - a new way of relating to these contents has appeared. A good example of this is that the traditional media (print, TV, radio) in their analogical state have often tried to appear as transmitters of information for a passive audience, but after content digitalization, using the possibilities that internet offers (on-line radios, journals and TV channels emerge, adapting and creating new languages), they have suffered a fast transformation process. By being enabled to select diverse content to the access to global information, the audience has increasingly been put in the role of ‘active users’. This transformation is also apparent within the cultural and entertainment industry, where we can observe, as Antoni Marín (2009) says, that “while some media had evolved from previous realities, others have originally emerged with the digital technology”. In this sense, music, cinema, or even electronic books with their huge hypertextual possibilities are evolving from analoguous to digital media, while others, like video games, would not be possible without digital technology.

The important thing that defines this new media is not the new kind of content that they produce but the new ways to relate to this content. The determinant is the interactivity that emerges from the use of new technologies “The interactivity modifies not only the way an author deals with her task, but also the contents themselves that she creates and even the role of the spectator. In fact, the latter is now usually more properly called user” (Marín, 2009). But we must see to what extent this implies a change in the educational paradigm. As Pérez Tornero affirms (2000): “The privilege that at the educational centers the grammar had over the general semiology, the book over the audiovisual media and the textual writing over the multimedia production, reflects much of the conflict and tends to alienate the education from a society that has strongly enhanced the audiovisual language”

Every education system must carry out a previous analysis of its social context if it is to achieve the aim of providing students with an effective education. As Tornero recognizes, this context is characterized by a massive consumption of the new media that is not accompanied by an appropriate knowledge of their codes and languages, especially when these are languages that are modeling new cognitive styles and configuring modes of appropriation of reality. Therefore, if we live in a time where a new language and new ways to relate with content and information are proliferating, when the new media are gaining increasing supremacy, the education system has to understand this new context, including an education which enables students competence in the use of these new languages and to enhance the development of technological skills. In this context, education should provide students with a “digital literacy” that allows the use of the new communication and information languages to code and decode messages, as well as to develop a full awareness of its use that involves a critical and creative utilization.

1.2. Information saturation:

Technological changes that happen and that we include into our own lives almost with the same speed have lead to a change of the educative paradigm in a second way; until fairly recently teachers could interact with few information sources. In the current information age, new problems have emerged for educators, who have to manage an overabundance of information and try to find appropriate ways to filter, decipher and interpret this information. In this way, the new educational context requires a different model of teacher, “whose features overcome the role of a transmitter of knowledge and implement it with a more dynamic dimension: as problem formulator, query provoker, work team coordinator, and designer of experiences.”(Pérez Rodríguez, 2009)

If the new technologies create new languages and representation, educational institutions cannot ignore them. They have to integrate and utilize this new language and account for the different communication context. Given the previous points it is obvious that education must perform important transformations to make it able to provide a critical education in these new languages in order to generate new methods or models of teaching that include them whilst also educating students in basic technological skills. When we talk about technological or digital skills we mean the necessary skills to cope properly in the actual digital media environment and interact with the digital content and its different presentations and platforms.

This does not just mean teaching the critical skills to discern between useful and irreverent information, for example on the internet. Other skills are also necessary, skills of negotiation (to know how to enter different groups and spheres and to understand their different rules) appropriate methodology (how to combine different content in a meaningful way), “gaming” (the skill to experiment with the peripheral as a way to solve problems), transmediatic browsing, simulation, collective intelligence, representation, distributed thought, visualization, multitasking, etc. Furthermore, we are no longer mere receivers of the information created by a small and limited number of producers, not only because ICT have multiplied the number of content generators exponentially, but also because we ourselves are producing these contents.

We must note that these skills are not only useful in an educational environment but also provide means of creative expression. These new technologies are becoming ubiquitous in everything from the workplace, daily life, social engagement and interpersonal relationships. They constitute skills that allow us to become active administrators of the new media instead of mere “users”. 1.3. Introducing video games in the educational context Inclusion of technologies in the educational context, however, is not an entirely new endeavour. The introduction of Information and Communication Technologies at educational centers has been widely implemented. In the following chapter we will demonstrate how video games are just one among many other technological media in which we are related to technology. (González and Rodriguez, 2003).

Moreover, by specifically concentrating on video games we will explore how they also represent a paradigmatic example of interactive narrative structures which - within a ludic environment enable teaching the technical know-how required for the use of computers and facilitate the development of various competencies related to the new media. There are several different ways of introducing these technologies into the classroom, ranging from using conventional video games for educational purposes to using video games designed specifically as educational tools or, bearing most interest to us, to teaching students how to create their own video games.

As Neil Gershenfeld, (Gershenfeld, 2009) has pointed out, “It is when people are able to create their own technology that passion gets aroused”. Undoubtedly, playing video games can be fun and educational, but being able to generate your own video games bears an even greater potential at different levels: Firstly, in our highly technological society in which computers are ubiquitous, it is not sufficient to know how to use the basic tools, but it becomes increasingly necessary to acquire programming knowledge that allows a full-fledged utilization of those tools.

Learning to program video games provides knowledge within a very stimulating environment for users. Secondly, if, as seen above, in the digital eras we are not only consuming content but also producing them, we will need the technical knowledge required to generate contents and express ourselves in the new media. In this respect, learning to program video games is extremely useful in that it involves learning to generate interactive contents.

1.4. Scratch

The developers of Scratch, the research group “Lifelong Kindergarten” of the MIT Media Lab, know these advantages and have created a new, user-friendly programming environment that enables the exploration of basic programming principles without the syntax complications typical for other languages. The idea underlying this 'software' is to leave behind the lines of code and make the programming of animations as intuitive as playing with LEGO toys, that is bringing together 'bricks' that contain all sorts of instructions. This feature makes programming easier and more intuitive than other programming languages, although it requires a learning period.

This program has been designed for children from 8 years up, although it can be used by adults as well. The intention of Scratch creators is to make programming accessible to anyone, since it was designed pursuing educational goals, as Mitchel Resnick, one of the people in charge of the program, explains: “We want the children to be creators. We want them to do interesting and dynamic things with the computer”. (Resnick, 2009).

1.5. Epitome

If in the digital era we confront a new language, we should not only understand the values and meanings that are transmitted through this “new media language”, but it is also important to know its grammar (basic programming notions), given the fact that unless we master this, we will only be receivers and we will never be able to express ourselves within this language.

That is the reason why learning to program video games is not only a way to develop basic skills for the use of technology, but also provides the necessary knowledge in order to analyze the processes that govern the functionality of video games -and, in general, that of every audiovisual language- and to identify the conceptual framework and the values they support.
 

2. BACKGROUND


Before this article focusses on video games we will briefly reflect on the pedagogical capabilities of this medium.

The “Homo Ludens “theory affirms the concept of humans as rational animals by stating that one of the most definitive facets of humanity is its capacity for play. This may seem frivolous but we can also recognize that in ‘playing’ we learn language, create identity, learn and improve our social skills as well as we learn about more complex topics such as economy or war. According to Vygotsky (1993) “the game has some attributes that it shares with other activities of problem solving, but in a more interesting way” In Vygotsky’s experiments with children he proved that the group that had access to materials before the problem statement (i.e.: the children that had the chance to play with it), solved it better than the other groups. This interaction was not just restricted to the instrumental skills; it also influenced language “you control [language] faster when its acquisition is done while performing a ludical activity” (Vygotsky, 1993).

Both the “Homo Ludens” theory and the term itself have been coined by Huizinga. According to him, games and culture are tightly united, in the way that “The big primordial occupations of the human conscience are impregnated in the games (…) so, humanity is created, constantly its expression of existence, a second world invented close to the natural world” (Huzinga, 2007). The game, according to Huizinga, is one of the first symbolic activities of human kind. The game is the beginning of culture and both are engaged in reflexive interaction. In this sense the ludical is at the backdrop of all the cultural phenomena, it is crystallized in the research of knowledge, poetry, the juridical life and the ways of state life. The game is presented as a constituent part of ourselves, as an indispensable tool for learning, and forms part of our culture.

We have seen how the game is an important part of learning and child development. This is broadly accepted and there are many authors that talk about it in psychology and educational sciences. Despite this it is probable that these authors may not have had videogames in mind when they developed their theories; yet, it is apparent that the game analysis parameters could be perfectly applied to videogames without disrupting these theories. If videogames have all the pedagogical advantages of the conventional game, in videogames we can also find other components that make them an even more interesting tool to be introduced in the educative centers.

The advantages of video games over conventional games are: As a leisure activity video games have the biggest sales, they are a top entertainment activity, beating even the cinema. Besides, kids and youths are already familiar with this media. Videogame users cover a bigger age demographic than the players of conventional games, for this reason it could implicate a continuous formation (an implication which also puts the focus on possible uses of videogames in corporate life )(1)

Resuming the topic of this article, videogames are one of the habitual ways that we use to relate with technology. Videogames are a paradigmatic example of interactive narrative structures that allow, in a ludic environment, to educate students in the technical control of computers and the development of skills related with the new media. There are many studies in defense of the use of videogames in the classroom (as we will show in the additional reading section) and, despite the fact that their application in the classroom is not widespread, there are a variety of educative videogames that are relevant to most subjects offered in schools and high schools.

The history of educational videogames started with the PLATO project, a project to develop educative contents by the Illinois University, Urbana-Champaign. This was the first project to create educational games. Since then there have been numerous developments, one of the most recent being developed by the MIT (Technological Institute of Massachusetts) who have developed more than 15 conceptual prototypes of educative videogames in a medium, high and advanced education level. These prototypes cover the educational spectrum from arts and social sciences to science and mathematics.

From these studies there have emerged some tools which could assist students to study different subjects. For example videogames for the smallest children such as “Alex builds his farm”, “Purple Place”, a videogame where the player has to recognize models, shapes and colours; “Learn music with Pipo”, which focuses on teaching basic musical concepts to children from 2 to 12 years old, “Math Blaster”, about mathematics which allows children to explore numbers, elemental operations and objects’ atstributes; “The Submarine World Adventure”, produced by Knowledge Adventure, gives the player information about the seas and oceans of the world as well as the plant and animal life that occurs at those places; “Map Game” about geography ; “English Trainings”, developed by PLATO; “Tactical Language”; “Making History”, about history; “Dimexian” about math; “Supercharged”, developed by the MIT to teach sciences to university and high school students and numerous others.

This paper it not trying to itemize all the existing educational games but merely to show a small sample of educational videogames that have been broadly studied, at different times and encompassing diverse subjects, and to enable us to analyze and chart their development.

Our interest is focused not on videogames as a media to teach specific learning content, but on the use of the games itself, and on the increasing function that videogames have in helping to acquire digital skills. This is a fairly recent field of study but we can find some previous investigations about implementations of technology in all scholar’s levels and relevant results in CSEDweek (2009), Tucker (2003), Franco et al (2006), diSessa (2000), Margolings (2008) and Monroy-Hernández (2008). These studies show that learning how to program has also influenced the way children approach other subjects of the school’s curricula.

There are some examples of projects that are focused on the creation of contents by kids, harnessing low cost and accessible information visualization tools such as Scratch, which have allowed learning, integrating and using computer graphics principles and interactive techniques for supporting other sciences and various areas of education improvements as, for example SIGGRAPH Asia Educators Program (2009).

Especially regarding Scratch we can find other workshop proposals like Robertson et al (2007) or other interesting researches like Resnick et al (2009), Maloney et al (2008) Kylie et al (2007).
 

3. VIDEOGAMES CREATION:

Scratch application According to Neal Gershenfeld (2009), it is when people create their own technology that true interest is awakened. A broad consensus exists about the educational benefits of introducing videogames in the classroom, as well as their potential to improve the acquisition of skills and specific contents. But the videogame creation has more advantages:

In our highly tech society, where computers are omniscient, is not enough to use the basic computer tools but it is also necessary to have programming knowledge to allow us a total and conscientious use of this tool.

Learning to program videogames give us this knowledge in a stimulating environment.

In the digital era we need the technical knowledge to generate content and express ourselves in the new media’s audiovisual language because we are not mere content consumers.

Video game programming is useful because it implies video and audio control and the creation of interactive contents. In recent years a new computer programming approach emerged which defined a new paradigm computer programming skills should be developed by people with no information background.

There is already a variety of programs available which we can use to reach this goal, for example RoboMind, Game Maker, E-Slate, Mama, Baltie, Kodu, Alice, Stagecast Creator, Etoys or Scratch. After analyzing all these programs, we finally decided to focus our case study on Scratch; in the following, we give a summary of our analysis of available programs in order of preference (less interesting to more interesting) and the reasons for our decision:

- RoboMind is a simple educational programming environment with its own scripting language that allows beginners to learn the basic principles of computer science by programming a simulated robot. The software is quite limited, and it is not exactly about videogames programming either. It also is proprietary software.

- Game Maker, designed by Mark Overmars at YoYo Games, is commercial software, and is not available for free sothe users that want to learn programming have to pay to get Game Maker.

- E-Slate, Mama, Kodu, Alice are freeware, but they have serious limitations as the language is concerned (the first one is just available in english and greek, the second one is in english, hebreerw and chinese, and the last ones are just in english). All of them are proprietary software and all of them run just on Windows operating systems.

- Stagecast Creator and Baltie are available in more languages and run on windows or MacOS; there is, however, no linux version, and they are also commercial software.

- In the freeware and open source segment, we could only find Etoys, a child-friendly computer environment and object-oriented prototype-based programming language for use in education, or Scratch. Both are good options, both are in a variety of languages, and both have a great community around the program, but we finally selected Scratch as a paradigmatic example of a successful tool for helping kids to develop programming skills, because it has the largest community, which has already developed and uploaded over 1,500,000 projects (MIT, 2011)

Scratch is a computer application for the easy development of video games and hypermedia texts. Using Scratch it is possible to paint characters (sprites), animate them, build interactive responses to a specific input (from the keyboard, for example) and determine the corresponding output (for instance, the character might “catch” something).

While the users don’t write code, they still keep a straight “programmer mindset”: by placing graphic blocks in a blank area and by connecting them users create the functions of the program. This approach represents a high level of abstraction facilitating the accessibility of concepts (informatics programming) leaving users free to focus on the concepts behind the programming language itself rather than worrying about syntax and grammatical errors, which easily occur at the beginning.

Scratch could be considered a social software and educational environment experiment. It enables children no younger than 8 years old to develop video games and interactive stories and share them on the Internet in a way that is easy and safe. It helps to understand how different parts of a video game or story work by programming a prototype and visualizing an idea as well as it allows to understand the logic of video games and interactivity in general. Scratch is educationally oriented and informed by the educators behind the project. It is also community software because the learning methodology is based on the possibility to copy or modify games already done by other users.

Scratch is developed by MIT’s “Lifelong Kindergarten” Group and utilizes three skill areas identified by “21st Century Learning Skills”. This program defines a new socio-cultural framework for education in the USA, in which different key areasare defined as educational goals, and a priority is defined for each. MIT software follows the guidelines from this framework and identifies three areas as priorities for learning processes in the 21th century: media and communication thinking and problem solving inter-personal and self-directional skills

3.1. Media and communication

Videogames are hypermedia texts which require several textual and linguistic competencies in order to be manipulated and/or decoded. As a tool for learning video game programming, Scratch systematically introduces all these elements which are part of the language and lets users familiarize with the process of manipulating different medial elements such as videos, images and sounds. Accumulating experience in using media objects students learn, probably for first time during institutional education courses, fundamental concepts of media criticque, like media linguistic deconstruction and functional critique.

These skills are to be considered very important not just for video game language but for all media-spheres in general in which students move every day, and which represent an important part of the social life in contemporary societies. In contemporary culture it is necessary to develop communication skills far surpassing those of writing and reading.

Knowing how to deconstruct an image or to create personal paths through different media is some of the needs of everyday life. Video games push students to mix different audiovisual sources in a communication environment controlled by the player. This relation stimulates young creators to consciously choose paths of meaning activated by different materials, helping them to develop basic communication skills. For example, by developing a video game the creator needs to think about colors, approaching color theory or interaction design elements in early stages of the study course; introducing these concepts during an early age will contribute to develop mature citizens in an information society.

3.2. Thinking and problem solving

Deconstructing the message, decomposing it in minimal elements and solving the techno-cultural problems of everyday life are some of the key skills today. All educational systems should pay attention to these aspects. Video games are proving to be a good tool to confront and deal with issues of problem solving and critical thinking in general. Creating a video game, by using Scratch or whatever other tool, means developing an idea, deconstructing it into its most minimal elements and compose the problem and solve every sub-problem systematically.

Scratch makes this process easy because it’s built upon the abstraction of code, close to the real action the user wants to create; by changing variables or blocks in use the creator can see the results in real-time. This behavior makes the programming language learning curve far easier than classical approaches like textual code and helps to understand information logic by implementing a trial and error methodology at the same time. In order to create a project in Scratch students have to coordinate the inputs with Spites (programmable moving objects) by thinking about relations between a player’s action and a programmed object’s reaction.

This process could involve a high level of conceptual abstraction, fomenting decomposition and relational skills over the elements in play. In some way students are invited to make a conceptual map of the elements in play (player, input method, process, output) and draw the connection that occurs between these objects over time (play time). Inputs, sensing, feedbacks are some of the fundamental system concepts students are motivated to play with. These kinds of Seymur Papert conceptual problems are not static but they change dynamically by fostering dynamic learning environments without fixed rules to memorize mechanically.

3.3. Interpersonal and self-directional skills

Graphical representation in blocks of the code creates a common language very easy to get for non IT people which is also easy to share. The accessibility of a Scratch project is very high, in a short training time the creator/programmer can modify and improve it and by using a common language that does not require previous knowledge of other information languages and by means of a clear categorization, color difference and graphic properties allows everyone to read the program. This condition fosters cooperative work and the possibility to be easily helped by a community of peers when students recognize that necessity. Video game development also requires a clear idea about the final goal of the exercise pushing students to identify the idea in respect to a specific action field.

The possibility to share the project through network enhancing, discussion and critique of the work done extends the educational action not only towards the productive phase but towards the whole creative process. Scratch, like all the research activities of the “lifelong kindergarten group”, is built upon constructionist theory from Seymur Papert (1980).

According to this thinking the human learning process is based on learning the know-how rather than the know-what. Construction of the individual, of the conscience, derives from a deductive learning process, where issues correspond exactly in the real world with their uses, and improve educational action. Papert is one of the pioneers in using IT in formal education; since the ‘80s he worked on the use of programming languages in primary school. Scratch advanced constructionism by being a tool that simplifies the learning process, mathematical knowledge, programming and more through the direct creation of hypermedia narrative objects. “And this is what we're trying to do: find ways in which the technology enables children to use knowledge, mathematical knowledge and other knowledge, not just store it in their heads so that twelve years later it's going to be good for them. Nobody can learn well like that; it's a terrible way of learning. We all like to learn so that we can use what we've learned, and that's what we're trying to do with these children”, Papert (1980).

The key point of this approach is what Mitch Resnick, member of the lifelong kindergarten of MIT, terms “technological fluency”. Learning key phrases of a natural language cannot be considered to be fluency in this language. Speaking a language means to be able to construct new sentences and meaning based on personal vocabulary. Most people today still don't know how to use a computer; they are able to reproduce some operations, but they are not fluent in using it. Their skills are generally limited to basic features of the operative system, to the use of some office programs and to searching and finding some information on the internet. Often they are not able to learn new ways to use computers by themselves or to learn a new feature of a program if needed, and neither do they feel comfortable using an unknown application, customizing software for their needs or using a program's features in a different way than usual. They are still unable to create things with a computer, to create images, videos and sounds; they usually don't debug some operation when it is not working. Mostly they don't modify software or even create a new one.

To be fluent in the use of today's technology means to be able to create digital artifacts based on the individual’s own ideas. It is important to have an idea of what to create, to develop the project until it is finished and to choose the right tools to do it. All these operationes cannot be considered isolated from their context, but take place within a community of peers. In the process of digital creation, sharing ideas, modifying and extending projects created by someone else, collaborating and helping people from the programming community are basic common and necessary procedures. Every creation should always be relevant to the community. So, constructivism theory considers learning as an active process in which people build new knowledge through their experiences of the world. Educational systems do not have to transmit knowledge, but must help to construct it. In the next sections “limitations and problems” and “solutions and recommendations” we will offer detailed information about why we consider things like the cost of some of the programs, the commercial or proprietary software or the language of the programs that are just in english or in a limited number of languages to be problematic, giving an detailled explanation of the problems and extended information about the selection of Scratch.
 

4. LIMITATION AND PROBLEMS


The educational model that we propose supposes an ideal context in which the technological resources are available and the teachers are well versed in using the tools. But the implementation of this model in different educational contexts faces some problems: The most evident problem is the availability of the technological resources.

The technological availability itself is an important fact in the developing of a country according to the actual economical system’s standards. Nowadays in some places of Europe, in South America, broad zones of Asia and many regions in Africa there is a serious problem about the information based architecture of new technologies distribution.

The technological environment that each context has to work with is different depending on its specific socio-cultural and economic environment. Other important problems that we find are the program licenses and platform issues that determine the accessibility of software to students. The computer programs that we use in education, the internet contents managers and other platforms condition our way of relating with the available technology and to acquire information in the digital community.

When using commercial software, our participation in the digital community and our endeavours to learn about and understand it are also dependent on commercial factors. Most of the software used on a daily basis in formal and informal education is commercial and subject to copyright laws. Far from any ideological point of view we consider this condition problematic in terms of availability of information and tools for students.

The hardware and software used at schools and universities should in theory be reproducible at home by the students with little economic effort and should not suppose to be a filter of entrance in education. The software used in education is often platform specific or uses some license that doesn’t allow students to see how it works, or to modify, study and learn from the program itself.

The limitations of the use, the modification or the redistribution of these programs constitute a control and restriction of the rights of the user over the program. If we want a quality digital education we can not allow that this education depends on commercial interests of companies and corporations. Outside the English and Spanish market it could be very difficult to find translated software, therefore we have to consider language accessibility as well.

This reveals a cultural background of today’s computer technology which could be, depending on the situation, an important issue for many students who do not speak these languages. Finally, the technological education of teachers is one of the biggest problems we have to solve when we consider the idea of introducing the new technologies into education. It is not rare that the student controls the computer and its applications better than the teacher.

This is due to the few resources that institutions use to update knowledge and to prepare the teaching personell/staff for the challenges of educational paradigm changes.
 

5. SOLUTIONS AND RECOMENDATIONS


To solve these problems we suggest some actions that could improve the basic conditions. We do not have a solution for the unavailability of computers in underdeveloped countries but we know that nowadays there are some projects to resolve it like the “One laptop per child” campaign that tries to distribute low cost laptops (about 100 dollars) as an energy saving incentive.

Tn regard to the accessibility of software, there is one possible solution, which Scratch has already implemented (and make it a better choice to others similar projects), namely the use of a free software license, like MIT license. The MIT license is a GPL compatible license issued by the Massachusset Institute of Technology, which also permits to combine the original software with proprietary software. The use of free software licenses for educational context has indeed several advantages. Programs with these licenses usually cost much less than proprietary software and sometimes this could be a big difference for educational institutions.

In general, free software is a community driven program that acts like a living organism, changing every day and adapting itself to the different conditions. With this kind of program it will be easier for teachers to adopt it on old computers outside the new market without any real need to update their working machine every 2 or 3 years due the new specifications of upcoming operative system releases.

The possibility to freely copy and distribute the program to other people, a student's parents for example, could be very important. Using this kind of software, like Scratch, would actively create a long chain educational system, not school centered but giving the freedom to the student to continue the work/research at home due to the openness of the platform. This has strategic value in an educational system that has to be accessible and inclusive for all. Scratch offers another advantage, which may be less communicated, but is still important for the educational environment.

This software is a cross-platform application and it can be installed and used in all major consumer Operating Systems: Windows, MacOS and GNU/Linux. An institution which wants to use the software does not have to change their previous computer installations to adapt to the product and economically this could be a key value for many educational institutions.

Many institutions have already a license contract with some computer company (like Microsoft or Apple) and in order to use Scratch they don’t need to pay an additional fee. It adapts itself to pre existing IT conditions and does not need any particular technical arrangement. This involves an important aspect for the final user too: students who want to improve their skills can continue to use the software at home without incurring further cost. Students can download Scratch and use it on their home computer as it is. The choice made by lifelong kindergarten group to maintain compatibility between platforms has had an important impact for education.

Another important decision was to release the software under MIT license, making the software open source and compatible with other free licenses. Due the openness of Scratch it is possible to download the code, read it and learn how it has been developed. MIT license defines the user rights, positioning it itself as a free software license that manages what users can do with software rather than focusing on what is forbidden. A free software license, like GPL*, lets users 4 basic freedoms: run, study, redistribute, modify. In order to be considered free software, according to the free software foundation declaration, the user must have the right to run the program for any purpose. Users can study the software by accessing the source code.

The program can be redistributed to a neighbor and can be modified and distributed as alternative versions, always leaving original authors and credits. As previously mentioned, outside the English and Spanish markets it can be very difficult to find translated software; free software applications push software customization on all aspects, starting with the programs language.

Language issues could be very important especially in first grade education: using Scratch or a software application in general to learn grammar issue can not be done in ay other than one’s native language.. The origin of customization in proprietary software comes from pure commercial interests: small communities are not economically relevant customers for a commercial software publisher. Free software escapes from this condition and lets communities find programs that better adapt to their needs.

As an example Scratch uses different modifications both to single games developed by people and to the core application. The possibility to share student's creations on the internet is central to the relationship the program tries to construct between its users. It is not just about creating a video game or an interactive story; the key point is to share it with the Scratch online community. In this community you can find all kinds of Scratch productions, from first demos to semi- professional works.

The user is persuaded to share from the beginning: by pressing a button in the main interface the user is able to publish personal creations to the online community Scratch website host. Other inhabitants of the community will be able to play the game on-line and rate or comment it. If they want, on-line players can download the original code of the game, open it in their Scratch installation and re-use it, modifying what they want, or just adding features, graphics and gameplay, for later re-publishing.

This viral property of the final games makes using scratch the central feature of the educational process, as a tool that is able to improve: remix culture, where sharing knowledge and collective thinking is the main subject. By creating a videogame with open tools like Scratch, users learn not just basic logic and element-analysis in general, but basic mechanisms of collective creation, cultural “mash up” and property distribution. It defines a valuable and prevalent tool in the information community. Regarding the technological education of teachers, it is important to develop workshops and courses, as well as the creation of teacher communities (similar to the ones that have emerged around Scratch) where the use of these tools occurs in a collaborative, seamless and continuous way which allows to share innovative methodologies, to solve doubt , to state problems and to provide solutions.

To put this into practice, an economic effort by institution would be needed to educate its staff. It is apparent that despite an educative centre being well equipped in new technologies, this does not mean that its staff is informed about its use , which would make the equipment redundant. As Alonso notes in regard to incorporating new technologies in the educative environment: “the formation is essential, not an added part” (Alonso, 2009).

Furthermore, the tools that are implemented in the creation of videogames within the education system must be free software programs, because, as this would solve a variety of problems that occur when these kinds of activities are introduced in the classroom. Apart from the evident practical advantages of Scratch, the use of free software is a key characteristic of the new educative paradigm that we defend. This culture, oriented on the idea of sharing knowledge, and opening channels to exchange information is the philosophy that must prevail in the new educative system. The challenge is not to introduce new technologies into the schools, but to create learning practices in an egalitarian way , practices which are not supported by proprietary software.

According to Meiszner, Glott and Sowe (2008), free software is probably one of the most mature learning ecosystems that exist on the internet. Free software communities are characterized by providing and distributing the necessary knowledge to create software in a sustainable way. We think the knowledge society needs educational institutions that do not restrict the access to educational content because they understand that the creation of knowledge is is the important part.

After all, a structure open to exchange allows the experts as well as the users to create knowledge in a joint way. If in the use of technologies, collaboration works user to user, in education we advance to the creation of new contents and learning schemes from student to student, opening new important opportunities to enrich the learning of the 21st century (Cobo, 2009).

Free software does not have license costs and can adapt easily to the technological contexts in where we are working. Being modular it is possible to remove shells when we need to. The translation of software is also easy, which leads to the inclusion of the global community. Perhaps eventually the software developed will be under the control of the user’s community, and not a company whose objectives are different from the objectives of an educational institution.

For this reason we suggest that digital technological education must be based on free software, to respect the freedom of programs, with the possibility of copy, use, change or distribute them. “The battle focuses on the development of applications, not owners. Nobody can make functionality dependent of neither a private support nor the commercial logic.” (Alonso, 2009). We are already beginning to see the efforts of some national governments, like in Brazil or Canada, to escape from the Microsoft monopoly; if we really defend an egalitarian digital education, information and communication technologies must be free from the restrictions of the monopolies associated with the mass media, banks, the advertising industries, instead of generating a new kind of informational conglomerate whose interpretation of “intellectual property¨ considers the expansion of property more valuable than the access to intellectual products. (Martín-Barbero, 2004).

In the following, we will present the practical case of a workshop for twelve years olds (but which could be adapted to different age groups). It is designed to be very accessible from a technical standpoint, because it only requires a computer for every third child. The ideal duration of the workshop proposed is 60 hours but it could be reduced to 15 hours in order to reach the objectives of the workshop. We won't offer a specification of the time required for each phase of the workshop because this program is intended as an orientation for future educators and should be adapted to the needs of the specific group of kids that participate.
 

6. VIDEO GAME CREATION WORKSHOP WITH SCRATCH

6.1. OBJECTIVES:

a) To enhance a critical approach to videogames that allows the students: To identify the conceptual background and the values that are defended in videogames that they are used to playing. To analyze the processes that govern the videogames. To learn to identify the principal parts of a videogame: Avatar, Objectives, game play, etc… To understand the videogame’s language and to be able to use this language as a means of expression, valuing its communicative possibilities as a new language.

b) To enhance their own creativity. To learn to value the videogame as an artistic creation and to understand its language. To develop the skills to use it as an expressive and representational media.

c) To develop the basic skills to use Technologies.

d) To develop creativity and self assurance, participation, personal initiative and the capacity to learn to learn, to plan to take decisions and to assume responsibilities, valuing the effort to overcome difficulties.

e) To learn how to do teamwork, to exercise their rights and duties in respect to others and to practice cooperation both interpersonally and collaboratively

f) To acquire, develop and make a habit of disciplined proceedings at individual and team work as a necessary condition for an efficient realization of the learning tasks and as a way for personal development.

6.2. CONTRIBUTION OF THE WORKSHOP TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE BASIC COMPETENCES.

Favors a playful response to technology.

Assists to enhance personal autonomy, identity and self-esteem, creativity and develops skills that allow individuals to participate, make decisions, and choose the correct way to behave in different situations and to take responsibility for the decisions we have taken and the consequences derived from them.

It contributes directly to the ethical dimension of the social competition; through the emergent “media education”, helping students to recognizing the different values that videogames transmit and to evaluate, decode and deconstruct the technical and conceptual language of the media.

Contributes to the development of the skill of learning to learn and to anhance the awareness of their own capabilities. Also it stimulates the virtues and social skills, teamwork and participation helps also the subsequent knowledge.

It favors the basic skill of autonomy and competence because it develops initiatives of planning, decision making, participation and responsibility.

6.3. METHODOLOGY:

In a playful environment we will try to create a critical conscience by playing familiar videogames as well as independent, educative ones, developed by teachers in a guided way. Once the students were able to do a basic analysis of the principal parts of a videogame we will ask the participants to imagine four videogames jointly. Once introduced to the program we are will to use and explain its performance, in three persons teams. They will create the videogames under the teacher’s assistance.

6.4. PROGRAMMING:

First season: Each participant brings to the workshop their favorite videogames; we play and analyze them, trying to create in the children a critical conscience. What is beyond the playful component?

Second season: We show the children videogames of similar mechanics as the ones they have brought at the last season but with a different content (independent, educative, Scratch created videogames) and we will play them while we make a critical exam. What is the difference between them and the ones we played the day before?

Third season: We will analyze which are the different parts of a videogame, encouraging the children to make the reflections: avatar, prizes, target, etc… Once we identify the principal parts, we encourage them to imagine the game they would like to create. What the avatar would be, what the goals of the game might consist in…. The children will be invited to visualize these concepts using software tools to draw that don’t require a high skill level.

Fourth season: We start to work with Scratch, familiarizing the kids with the program, teaching them how to use it.

• Introduction of the interface and functionality of a simple and easy to use example program.
• Coordinates (mini games to learn the basic concepts of axis and coordinate.
• Giving it movement I (How my avatar moves along the axis).
• Giving it movement II (learn to assign rounds to each movement to make it more effective)
• But when? (Keyboard and mouse events)

Fifth season: Through collective planning four videogames are chosen to be developed. After that groups of three children are organized to develop them under the teachers’ supervision.

Last season: The children present the videogame that they have developed and once presentations are finished the children try all the games. We close the workshop encouraging the children to make conclusions collectively from the videogames, the children must justify the values of the games they play, creating a critical attitude to this cultural medium that is so close to them and making them aware of their own creativity.

We think it is important that this workshop will not be an isolated event but that it will have continuous repercussions in time in three ways:

First: By using Scratch, children can became part of an international community that uses the same program for educative development. This means to get into a shared formative and continuous process, to learn how to relate through this tool with children from other cultures (this will enhance the ideas of exchange, tolerance …)

Second: Generating a documentation that goes beyond videogames created by children by creating a document about the workshop in which the objectives, used resources, methodologies, problems and solutions appear clearly. This document will be useful to improve the workshop and as a tool for teachers, constituting a sociological, philosophical and pedagogical study about the use of this new technology in educative environments.

Third: The games created by the children could be the object of a guided exhibition for children of the same age whose collective reflections would be annexed to the workshop document.

6.5. RESULTS:

Many kids might have technological skills before the workshops being used to play games and to surf the internet without problems, in these cases the great advantage is to work with them not just in the technological part but in regard to theoretical aspects too, this means to do an analysis of the games that they use to play and try to create in the children a critical conscience.

The acquisition of critical thinking by the kids can be measured by the contexts that they select for their own game and through the dialog with them. In other cases, when we are working with children who come from poverty, or from communities in risk of social exclusion it is possible that their technological skills are not developed as well, but the simplicity of the Scratch program allows them to aquire these skills quite fast. In this case the technical skills or the critical thinking are important objetives to accomplish, but not as important as reinforcing their self esteem and giving them the feeling that they can create something and encouraging them to express themselves by creating the game.

It is really interesting to see how their oun life experiences and their problems appear in the contents of the games that they design. The improvement of their self-esteem is perfectly visible trough direct observation. In all of the cases, we hope to encounter no great difficulties in measuring the results obtained, on the one hand simply because the direct observation and the conversations with the kids that take place in the constant contact with them during the workshop will provide a lot of information about the skills that the children are aquiring, which allows to adapt the contents and the schedule to their respective needs.

On the other hand the final product provides interesting information about the skills that the children have obtained during the workshop. These skills are clearly represented by the technological complexity, the contents, characters, enemies, objectives and story that they select, how they integrate the different digital languages like sound, images, gameplay, etc. in the game, and it clearly shows whether all of them work well together in a coherent manner, etc. And in the Scratch online-community, it is possible to follow the evolution of the children even after the workshop is finished.
 

7. FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS


Scratch represents one of the most successful examples of dataflow programming. This paradigm has proved to be useful to introduce computer programming to many people without specific computer knowledge. Further investigation proposing programming tools that give us the capability to create digital artifacts with increasingly complexity is promoted by this program.

Another important factor in this exploration is to expand the possibilities of these programming environments to make them interact with the real world in an effortless and operative way. This investigation path is being explored from the Scratch developer team itself by the implementation of a micro controller for using data from the real world. A micro controller is a hardware that acts as an interface between sensors (input data coming from physic world) and the application.

Since the beginning Scratch provides this possibility by using the ScratchBoard, now known as Picoboard. It allows users to connect different types of sensors to the program: temperature, light, magnetic, humidity and microphone. Our future investigations will take this direction and we already have done preliminary experiments in the form of personal projects. Based on these preliminary experiences we can glean some of the possible directions for the progress of this kind of software and programming as an IT approach to education.

The possibility to use the body as the controller through Microsoft kinect optic sensors and homebrew software by Steven Howell that connect the 3d cam to Scratch already lets users create motion tracking based games, which is also an interesting option.
 

8. CONCLUSION


This article states that education is facing challenges as a result of the change that the digitalization of its contents brought to its paradigms. Introducing new technologies in educational settings is necessary and represents a clear actual trend; but the educational system can not limit itself to introduce these technologies without implementing other transformations aimed to change the concept of “teachers” itself; someone that teaches the students “to learn”, to search information discerning the good and the false information, to generate their own content and to share it with others, providing a critical and creative education in the new languages and a new conscious way to relate with the new media.

This article has explored that this can be achieved with videogames, but not just by educational games (which may be a good way to introduce students to the new technologies and to make the study of some subjects more dynamic and attractive, but the mere implementation of educational games does not account for an important part of education that we want to emphasize, which is the creation of new contents), but in learning how to make videogames.

In this way, students will acquire more holistic technical skills that will allow them to work with the new media because they will learn to work with graphics, videos, music, etc…. As videogame programming can be complex we propose the use of Scratch, a a freeware (open license?) videogame creation program, which is easy to handle, and is rooted in a big community already formed whose advantages have been described above.

To prove the advantages that the use of this program has we have proposed the creation of a videogame workshop for children that could be implemented in schools and high schools. With all this we want to contribute to enhance the trend of educating students in digital skills highly necessary in our contemporary context.
 

REFERENCES


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Alonso, E. (2009). Segunda Ilustración: Cultura digital y progreso. Paper presented at the IXth Compostela Colloquium in Logic and Analytic Philosophy, USC, 2009.

Cobo, J.C. (2009). Conocimiento, creatividad y software libre: una oportunidad para la educación en la sociedad actual. UOC Papers. Retrieved November 9, 2010, from http://www.uoc.edu/uocpapers/8/dt/esp/cobo.pdf

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Kylie, A. Peppler and Yasmin, B. Kafai (2007), From Super Goo to Scratch:exploring creative digital media production in informal learning. Learning, Media and Technology, Vol.32, No. 2, June 2007, pp.149-166). Retrieved October 31, 2011, from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439880701343337

Maloney, J., Peppler, K., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., and Rusk, N. (2008), Programming by choice: Urban youth learning programming with Scratch. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin 40, 1, 367–371. Margolis, J. Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008.

Martín-Barbero, J. (2004) Nuevas tecnicidades y culturas locales. Ejes de una propuesta, Revista Digital Telos. Retrieved February 11, 2011 from http://sociedadinformacion.fundacion.telefonica.com/telos/articulocuaderno.asp@idarticulo=2&rev=61.htm#n1

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2011), Scratch: imagine, program, share, Retrieved November 1, 2011, from http://scratch.mit.edu/

Meiszner, Glott y Sowe (2008), Free / Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities as an example of successful open participatory learning ecosystems. UPGRADE, The European Journal for the Informatics Professional, Vol 9 N° 3, (pp. 62–68)

Monroy-Hernández, A. and Resnick, M. Empowering kids to create and share programmable media. Interactions 15, 2 (Mar.–Apr. 2008), 50–53.

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ADDITIONAL READING SECTION


Authored book:

Ballestero, F. (2002). La brecha digital: el riesgo de exclusión en la sociedad de la información, Madrid: Fundación Retevisión Auna.

Buckingham, D. (2002). Crecer en la era de los medios electrónicos. Madrid: Morata.

Cordes, C., & Miller, E. (2000). Fool’s Gold: A Critical Look at Computers in Childhood. College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood.

Gilster, P. (1997), Digital literacy, Nueva York: Wiley

Greenfield, P., Cocking, R. (1996). Interacting with video. Advances in applied developmental psychology, Stamford: Ablex Publishing Corp. & University of California, Dept. of Psychology, Los Angeles

Gros, B. (2004). Pantallas, juegos y educación: la alfabetización digital en la escuela. Bilbao: Desclée de Brouwer.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms:Children Computers and Powerful Ideas, Boston: Mit Press

Papert, S. (1998). Child Power: Keys to the New Learning of the Digital Century, Boston: eleventh Colin Cherry Memorial Lecture on Communication

Steven, L. K. (2001). The ultimate History of video games, Roseville: Three rivers Press

Turkle, S. (1997). La vida en la pantalla. Barcelona: Paidos

Chapter in an edited book:

Cawkell, T. (2001): Sociotechnology: the digital divide. In Journal of Information Science vol.27, nº1 (pp. 51-53)

Cullen, R. (2003), The digital divide: a global and national call to action. In The Electronic Library, vol.21, nº3, (pp. 247-257)

Eisenberg, M. (2003). Mindstuff: Educational Technology Beyond the Computer. In Convergence, vol. 9 n°2, (pp. 29-53).

Menou, M. (2004). La alfabetización informacional dentro de las políticas nacionales sobre tecnologías de la información y comunicación (TICs): la cultura de la información, una dimensión ausente. Anales de Documentación, nº7, (pp. 241-261)

Phipps, L. (2000) New communications technologies. A conduit for social inclusion”. Information Communication and Society, vol.3, nº1, (pp.39-68)

Peppler, K. and Kafai, Y. From SuperGoo to Scratch: Exploring creative media production in informal learning. In Journal on Learning, Media, and Technology vol 32, n°7, (pp.149–166)

Resnick, M. Sowing the seeds for a more creative society. In Learning and Leading with Technology, Dec. 2007, (pp. 18–22)

Published proceedings:

Travieso, J.L., Planella, J. (2008). La alfabetización digital como factor de inclusión social: una mirada crítica, UOC Papers: revista sobre la sociedad del conocimiento, Vol. Nº 6.

Sandoval, Edgar (2009). Conocimiento y comunicación: el lugar del sujeto frente a las tecnologías de información, In Ide@s CONCYTEG Año 4, N° 45

Web site:

Aguilera Moyano, M. A. & Méndiz Noguero, A. Videojuegos y educación. Retrieved march 04, 2011, from http://ares.cnice.mec.es/informes/02/documentos/indice.htm..

Buckingham, D. (2008): “Repensar el aprendizaje en la era de la cultura digital”, in El Monitor, Vol. September 2008, (pp. 17-21). Retrieved March 02, 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/51887967/REPENSAR-EL-APRENDIZAJE-EN-LA-ERA-DE-LA-CULTURA-DIGITAL

Eduteka, Scratch en la educación escolar, Retrieved October 22, 2010, from http://www.eduteka.org/modulos.php?catx=9&idSubX=278

Mitchel Resnick, John Maloney, Andrés Monroy-Hernández, Natalie Rusk, Evelyn Eastmond, Karen Brennan, Amon Millner, Eric Rosenbaum, Jay Silver, Brian Silverman, and Yasmin Kafai, Scratch: Programming for All, Retrieved March 09, 2010 from http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/Scratch-CACM-final.pdf

Yasmin B. Kafai, Kylie A. Peppler & Robbin N. Chapman (Eds.) Origins and Guiding Principles of the Computer Clubhouse. Retrieved February 13, 2010, from http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/Clubhouse/clubhouse-origins.pdf

Mitchel Resnick, Learning & Leading with Technology International Society for Technology in Education U.S. & Canada, Retrieved June 24, 2010, from http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/Learning-Leading-final.pdf

Mitchel Resnick, Computer as Paintbrush: Technology, Play, and the Creative Society, Singer, D., Golikoff, R., and Hirsh-Pasek, K. (eds.), Play = Learning: How play motivates and enhances children's cognitive and social-emotional growth. Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/papers/playlearn-handout.pdf

Mitchel Resnick, Rethinking Learning in the Digital Age, Retrieved May 23, 2011, from http://llk.media.mit.edu/papers/mres-wef.pdf
 

KEY TERMS AND DEFINITIONS


Videogames:
electronic programs that use game logic as man-machine interaction model.

Free software:
informatics application with a copyrigth let user view the sourcecode of the program.

Accessibility: the possibility to access some information or resource in a inforrmatics ecology system.

Interactive stories: multimedia narrative composed by the mix of images, sounds, videos and texts.

PLATO: first public supported project of educational software.

RoboMind: simple educational programming environment that will familiarize the kids with the basics of computer science by letting the kids program their own robot.

Game Maker: is a Windows and Mac IDE originally developed by Mark Overmars in the Delphi programming language

E-Slate: an exploratory learning environment. It provides a workbench for creating highly dynamic software with rich functionality,by non-programmers.

Mama: an educational programming language and development environment for developing 3D animations and games.

Baltie: an educational graphic oriented visual programming tool for kids, children, youth and adults.

Kodu: new visual programming language made specifically for creating games.

Alice: 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web.

Stagecast Creator: easy-to-learn, easy-to-use software tool for making your own games and simulations.

Etoys: an educational tool for teaching children powerful ideas in compelling ways trougth a media-rich authoring environment and visual programming system.

Scratch: software application for children and kids to develop videogames and digital narratives.