Abstract  

As Chile strives to position itself as the entrepreneurship hub of Latin America, the country’s early education system will need to incorporate technical skills, like computer programming into the curriculum. Although Santiago’s schools are generally well-equipped, the country’s rural areas lack the resources to buy computers for schools. To ensure students from every locality know the opportunities afforded to them by programming, teachers need a low cost tool to introduce students to programming. “Offline” methods of teaching programming, those which don’t require a computer, could offer an alternative for schools without requiring large investments in technology.

The goal of this pilot study is to refine an “offline” introductory workshop of teaching programming. Our team will travel to schools throughout Chile, and offering computer science workshops. We’ll compare the results of students taught online and offline with a control group. Experimental groups of students will self-assess their computational abilities. A week after the workshops, we’ll return to the schools to ask the same questions. Our pilot study will identify the feasibility of this methodology for a large-scale, randomized study.

Introduction

Start-up Chile, a government-sponsored seed accelerator, recruits foreign entrepreneurs to establish early stage companies within the country by providing them with equity-free funding. Although the program seeks to position Chile as the entrepreneurship hub of Latin America, it lacks a plan for incorporating 21st century skills into the early education system. As Chile develops its technology sector, they’ll need to create a larger pipeline of programmers to fill technical roles.

Many Chilean organizations are already working to incorporate programming into the school curriculum. Jóvenes Programadores, an initiative from the network of public libraries, is a free online learning platform, offering a 9-class class that teaches Scratch and App Inventor. All the material is in Spanish.

In our offline workshop, students will use physical blocks with commands written on them. The teacher will explain how combining these blocks will change the movement of an object. Students will work in pairs, with one student constructing the program. The other student will act as the “compiler,” and interpret the code the other student was written.

Our research will aim to answer the question: how do online versus offline gaming activities compare in inspiring students to pursue computing careers in high schools in Chile?

Hypothesis

We believe that offline methods will not be as effective in inspiring students, as offline methods will lack the functionality allowing students to see their programs come to life. However, we believe that the gamification of the offline activity could compensate for this shortcoming.   

Study design

This pilot study will optimize the efficacy of offline teaching methodology and measuring learning outcomes. This study will serve as the precursor to a large-scale quantitative trial.   

General objective 

Our objective is to create a one-hour “offline” introductory workshop that can be utilized by teachers in low-resource schools in Chile. We hope to achieve learning outcomes comparable to those of a computer-aided Scratch workshop. By offering these workshops in disadvantaged communities, we can encourage students to select technical career paths, improving channels of social mobility in Chile.

This study will refine the methodology for a randomized control trial, which will measure the efficacy of our offline method against a computer-aided approach.

Specific objective

  1. To develop a one-hour introductory, computer-assisted workshop that increase students’ reported desire to continue learning computer science.
  2. To develop an offline introductory programming workshop, which achieves learning outcomes comparable to computer-assisted Scratch workshops.
  3. To develop a questionnaire that assesses the ability of the workshop to motivate students to continue studying computer-related fields.
  4. To conduct a series of case studies that measure the workshops’ effectiveness in motivating students.

Research methods

Phase I – Develop Materials

During Phase I, the researchers will develop the materials required for the pilot study. These include:

  1. A one-hour computer-assisted activity, using Scratch
  2. A one-hour offline activity, using physical blocks that mimic Scratch
  3. A one-hour activity that explains the history of computer programming
  4. A survey that assesses student interest in computer programming before and after the interventions
Phase II – Pre-testing materials

The researchers will collect qualitative data on each of the study materials to identify the final versions that will be utilized in the pilot study.

Regarding the “offline”activity, the researchers will experimenting with 5 different prototypes of the offline activity. The offline activity with the best learning outcomes will be employed in the pilot study.

Phase III — Pilot Study

In the pilot study, students in the 9th and 10th grades will be randomly assigned to 3 experimental groups. Each group will receive a one hour workshop on computer programing concepts. Group 1 will be taught computer programming using computers equipped with the Scratch application. Group 2 will learn computer programing offline using the blocks method. Group 3, the control group, will be taught computer science history.

Location

As stated in our general research objective, we hope to create workshops that inspire students from disadvantaged communities. Accordingly, our study will be conducted at techno-professional schools in Chile that are classified as low income by the Ministry of Education. We analyzed student test performance data for every school in Chile, and found these schools tend to have lower performance in math exams. We will cater our workshops to these low-performing schools, inorder to ensure our workshops are impactful in opening channels for social mobility.

Our study will assess the learning outcomes of (x) students. The following high schools will participate in the study:

  1. Complejo Agrícola, Talagante
  2. Matias Cousiño, El Bosque
  3. Liceo, Pichilemu
  4. Regina Mundi, Macul

Experimental groups

Students in all 3 research groups will be given a benchmark questionnaire, in which they assess their computing abilities.

In Research Group 1, students will build a simple video game using computers and Scratch.

In Research Group 2, students will build the same game “offline,” using physical blocks to program.

In Research Group 3, students will be given a lecture on the history of computing, and the inventions of Alan Turing.

One week after the students attended the workshops, all students will be asked to re-assess their computational abilities using the same questionnaire.

Statistical test and measures

We have selected evaluation questions, which match our research objective of inspiring students to continue learning to program.

Students will be given the same questionnaire, before and after the workshop. I adapted existing questions from the questionnaire developed by Judy Robertson’s team, and translated them into Spanish.

Item Response format Asked
La programación es difícil. 5-point Likert scale Pre-workshop and post-workshop
Me gusta la programación. 5-point Likert scale Pre-workshop and post-workshop
Yo sé más que mis amigos sobre las computadoras. 5-point Likert scale Pre-workshop and post-workshop
Las computadoras son divertidas. 5-point Likert scale Pre-workshop and post-workshop
Yo soy buena(o) con la computación. 5-point Likert scale Pre-workshop and post-workshop
Trabajar en computadora es fome. 5-point Likert scale Pre-workshop and post-workshop


Study timeline

This study will take place from June until November of 2017, during the second semester of the school year. The study will require 3 weeks to conduct at each of the 5 participating schools.

Collaborators

UCorp, and their conference Scratch Al Sur, have assisted me in developing the content for introductory workshops.

Additionally, professors Hector Ponce and Francisco Castañeda from the University of Santiago, Chile will supervise the implementation of the research design.

Ethical considerations

Participation in the study will require approval from a parent or guardian.