I did some work workshops with the great people from Digital Wish again this week (see also Teaching Teachers and Students Together) We did a full day workshop on web development using Expression Web using the Heavy Metal Car tutorial workshop from http://expression.microsoft.com/education We were able to cram a lot of learning into one day and by the end of the day the students (high school students and faculty mixed) had created a web page that included quite a bit of learning. Actually it was a pretty crammed day but pretty much everyone was able to keep up with the fast pace. I think the fact that Expression Web uses a lot of the same sorts of icons, command ribbons and generally has a look and feel a lot like Microsoft Office has a lot to do with the fast learning curve. Day two was another Kodu workshop. Honestly I think we learned some things about workshops like this from the previous one and we covered more in less time and had more fun. In fact there was an interesting exchange just before the lunch break.
The head of Digital Wish announced that we were going to take a lunch break and that we had been going at it for about three hours already. One of the students popped up and said “What? we’ve been doing this for three hours?” and looked at the clock. This was followed by him turning to his peers and saying “Guys we’ve been at this for three hours already!” This was followed by the students almost waking up from a trance. Honestly I have seen very few students engrossed in learning something as these students learning Kodu.
I’m not sure the students in the picture on the left even knew that I was walking around taking pictures. For some of these students Kodu was not their first experience with visual programming tools. Some had used Alice (from Carnegie Mellon) while others had used Scratch (from MIT). now I love both of those tools and I’ve seen them used with great effect. I do recommend them myself. But at least in my face these students were enjoying Kodu more. I see this as a statement of one size not fitting all more than as a criticism of those other wonderful learning tools. One of them would still rather use Game Maker for example for their own projects. Since the students in this workshop are going to be teaching other, younger students I’m glad they were enjoying themselves with Kodu of course.
The highlight of the day for me was one other comment from a student. I didn’t catch it all as he was talking to his peers but it was along the lines of “I thought programming was all dull and boring but this is really interesting and fun.” That to me is one of the real goals of using Kodu, and to a real extent some of the other visual programming languages. We want students to see some real success and create something meaningful to them. Once they have that success and realize that they can program and that they can create value they become much more willing do to the hard work that moving to more advanced programming entails.
I know a lot of students who really enjoy programming games using XNA for example. This is much more complex and difficult than Kodu. But knowing what is possible (Kodu is written using XNA for example) and knowing that they can have fun while learning is a great kick start. Students will work hard to learn things that interest them. They will also find it fun. Really that’s not such a bad thing.