Computational Thinking (CT) is becoming a fundamental literacy skill, such as reading and writing, and expected to be used worldwide by the middle of the century. CT is “the thought process involved in formulating a problem and expressing it in a way that a computer - human or machine - can effectively carry out”. It borrows concepts from computer science, such as sequences, operators, and iteration as well as practices like being incremental and iterative, testing, debugging, abstracting, and reusing.
This project investigates the use of tangible block-based systems accessible to children with visual impairments to perform programming activities alongside their sighted peers and family. Unlike previous work that us mostly limited to building sequential audio-based actions, we explore the use of small robots in spatial programming activities.
Title: Inclusive Computational Thinking
Date: Apr 9, 2020
Authors: Hugo Nicolau, Tiago Guerreiro, Ana Pires, Isabel Neto, Filipa Rocha, Diana Mendes
Keywords: inclusion, computational thinking, robots
Accessible introductory programming environments are scarce, and their study within ecological settings (e.g., at home) is almost non-existent. We present ACCembly, an accessible block-based environment that enables children with visual impairments to perform spatial programming activities. ACCembly allows children to assemble tangible blocks to program a multimodal robot. We evaluated this approach with seven families that used the system autonomously at home. Results showed that both the children and family members learned from what was an inclusive and engaging experience. Children leveraged fundamental computational thinking concepts to solve spatial programming challenges; parents took different roles as mediators, some actively teaching and scaffolding, others learning together with their child. We contribute with an environment that enables children with visual impairments to engage in spatial programming activities, an analysis of parent-child interactions, and reflections on inclusive programming environments within a shared family experience.
Previous attempts to make block-based programming accessible to visually impaired children have mostly focused on audio-based challenges, leaving aside spatial constructs, commonly used in learning settings. We sought to understand the qualities and flaws of current programming environments in terms of accessibility in educational settings. We report on a focus group with IT and special needs educators, where they discussed a variety of programming environments for children, identifying their merits, barriers and opportunities. We then conducted a workshop with 7 visually impaired children where they experimented with a bespoke tangible robot-programming environment. Video recordings of such activity were analyzed with educators to discuss children’s experiences and emergent behaviours. We contribute with a set of qualities that programming environments should have to be inclusive to children with different visual abilities, insights for the design of situated classroom activities, and evidence that inclusive tangible robot-based programming is worth pursuing.