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Scale or Fail

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Scale or Fail, illustrative photo

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K–12 computer science Education (CSed) is an international challenge with different countries engaging in diverse strategies to reach systemic impact by broadening participation among students, teachers and the general population. For instance, the CS4All9 initiative in the U.S. and the Computing at School4 movement in the U.K. have scaled up CSed remarkably. While large successes with these kinds of initiatives have resulted in significant impact, it remains unclear how early impact3 becomes truly systemic. The main challenge preventing K–12 CSed to advance from teachers who are technology enthusiasts to pragmatists is perhaps best characterized by Crossing the Chasm,5 a notion anchored in the diffusion of innovation literature. This chasm appears to exist for CSed. It suggests it is difficult to move beyond early adopters (Figure 1, red and orange stages) of a new idea, such as K–12 CSed, to the early majority (Figure 1, green stage). Switzerland, a highly affluent, but in terms of K–12 CSed somewhat conservative country, is radically shifting its strategy to cross this chasm by introducing mandatory pre-service teacher computer science education starting at the elementary school level.

Three fundamental CSed stages, captured in Figure 1, are characterized by permutations of self-selected/all and students/teachers combinations. It took approximately 20 years to transition through these stages. Each stage is described here from a more general CSed perspective as well as my personal perspective.


Richard Ladner

When it comes to K-12 CS education, this viewpoint focuses on the teacher and not the student. The assumption is made is that if all teachers get quality pre-service CS training, then that will translate automatically to all K-12 students getting a CS education. The tool called AgentCubes, created by the author of the article, is promoted as a way for teachers and students to learn computational thinking. From a quick look at the AgentCubes web site, it is not accessible to screen reader users. As a result it is probably useless for teaching blind students. With any article that promotes a particular tool for K-12 education, there should be a note about its limitations. The term "all students" is not fully realized in the story presented in this article.

Alexander Repenning

Dear Richard

as you knowwe spoke many times at NSF meetings, and I emailed you information about our accessible versions of tools (would have been nice to get some email response from you btw)we do have options for students who need screen readers. AgentSheets, the first drag and drop programming environment of its kind, going back to 1995, already, and still, includes screen reading explaining programs using text-to-speech. AgentSheets, 3D aside, is compatible with AgentCubes and can be used as alternative. Years before other drag and drop programming tools even appeared we already had included accessibility features in AgentSheets. And this includes not just screen reading but also keyboard and mouse based programming composition avoiding the need for drag and drop. I know that you know that drag and drop gestures can be difficult for some users. You can find some discussion of these accessibility features in one of the papers cited in the article.

A. Repenning, "Moving Beyond Syntax: Lessons from 20 Years of Blocks Programing in AgentSheets," Journal of Visual Languages and Sentient Systems, vol. 3, pp. 68-89, 2017.

best, Alex

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