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Collaborative Communities & Online Learning
Just recently, our friend Ricarose Roque came for a visit and talked to us about her latest work.  A Ph.D. student this Fall at the Media Lab in Mitch Resnick’s “Lifelong Kindergarten” group, Ricarose has been thinking about using the group’s project Scratch to explore questions about the gendered use of computers and programming.

 

 

This image shows Ricarose with her first computer at age 12 on the right, while her husband is shown on the left at the age 3 working side-by-side with his brother and father at the family’s computer.

A general question arises: what role does collaboration play in the experience of youth in technical learning?

Many creative communities that exist online provide an outlet for participation and learning around technical skills.  Ricarose had us look at Scratch, used primarily by children ages 7-16.  Scratch’s friendly interface showcases programming as building blocks: specifications that link together to generate strings of commands and controls.

 

 

The curiously entertaining user-generated output makes producing stories and sharing output fun.  Code can also be downloaded so users can alter and contribute to already existing output, essentially encouraging an essence of collaboration among young Scratchers.

How does this online project feed into research on the gendered use of computers?  Ricarose has her instincts honed to the possibilities.  To start, she wonders if the gender divide in technical education originates in disparate experiences in childhood between girls and boys, and if collaborative environments make a difference.

Generalizable questions immediately follow: In what ways are children encouraged to approach computers at an early age? And in what ways is usage limited?  Ricarose had us thinking about what kinds of childhood experiences motivates sustained participation in technology development, as well as the geographic spread of youth participation in online environments.

Either way, current Scratch programmers are not short on creativity.  The range in storytelling confirms that something seriously engaging is going on for girls and boys alike:

When I Grow Up

Grupo Voces

Maki-Tak

Scratch Catch 2