Even Small Customizations

Research in “Creativity, Customization, and Ownership…” by Schanzer, Krishnamurthi, and Fisler suggests that customization within programming projects can have impactful effects on student ownership/pride.

“… even small amounts of customization… are sufficient to get students to view their games as different from those of others”

My Intro CS students are working on a navigation project. They must turn the layout of a city into a numerical map, and then use that to navigate a robotic vehicle from a specified location to a destination. Rather than follow the recommendations of the curriculum that dictates which values should represent the destination, roadblocks, roadways, etc. in a 2D array, I had students to choose their own associations.

I’ll admit, my attempt at applying this research did feel very minimal.  But, I have noted a couple nice benefits:

  • Enabling the students to choose their own number representations of map details required us to have a class discussion about computational thinking — how to represent a city map with numbers that can be computed.
  • The theme/purpose of the project has to be revisited every time I help a group because I need to ask what does “if(map == 55)” mean. I don’t remember each group’s associations.
  • Removing standardization started each group with a (very slightly) different project from the design, therefore inhibiting direct copying of code.

There are drawbacks:

  • The lack of standardization makes some directions/demonstrations slightly more complicated because the numbers don’t match.
  • As a class, we aren’t developing a common shared language — “at 55 it needs to turn west”.
  • This might lead to a higher cognitive load for the activity because the values must mentally be associated to the map elements.

Additional comments about the research paper:

  • Section 2 clears up that the abstract’s phrase “students genuinely designed” isn’t truly design work in the experimental assignment. CS Design is hard let’s not misidentify it so we can be intentionally developing it.
  • I appreciate that the authors acknowledged that facilitating creative/custom CS projects can be very demanding on teachers.
  • “64% would like others to see their (completed assignment)” — that sounds more like pride than “ownership.”
  • I have a negative gut reaction when I hear about CS classes creating “video games” because that feeds into the niche audience of CS students. Perhaps that term is not as dominant in the actual BS:A activity.
  • It would be nice to run a similar study in a CS course where students’ expectations of ‘creativity’ may be very different. Math activities tend to be very regimented, so offering an activity with a minimal amount of customization is a relatively big deal.
  • Lastly, I would like to answer Fisler’s question, “Do we overstate the case for creativity?”: NO! “Create” is at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy, we want our students working their way up to this. Please, don’t confuse ‘creativity’ with ‘artsy’ or ‘customization’. Every new program is an act of creating (even if its appearance is bland). This activity sounds like it guides students through the implementation of a customized game, the real *creative* computer science skills of this activity aren’t discussed much in this paper.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s