Posts from SIGCSE: bring on Alice 3

Posted on March 15, 2008


Wanda Dann, Dennis Cosgrove and co are hosting several hundred academics at the Alice tea-party today.

We’ve used Alice for several years now in our introductory programming courses. Dale and Patricia have carefully measured learning outcomes (pdf). They, along with others, have found that students can get distracted by the building of characters (joining legs to bodies etc), and, perhaps more importantly, only weak evidence of students transferring Alice abilities to subsequent programming environments.


The Alice team should take a deep bow for listening to these concerns. They have directly addressed these problems in Alice 3 which uses Sims assets. Dennis describes the focus as being on a higher level – what is the character thinking? rather than the central tool being “move”.

Dennis also hopes the new Alice will improve transition. Alice 3 toggles between the diagrammatic and java interfaces. A design goal is “one hard problem at a time”, students should be able to focus on learning the hard conceptual aspects of programming:

life’s to0 short to struggle with syntax when you should be learning concepts

Alice 3 is based on concepts in Caitlin Kelleher‘s Storytelling Alice (journal paper). Her storytelling approach was explicitly designed to engage high school girls in computing (conference paper).

I hope that we will be among the Beta testers late in 2008.

More than “just” for teaching programming, I’m hoping to use Alice 3 for much wider needs: I think there is a participatory decision making angle to this. In particular, I’m very keen to explore Alice3 for Simpa. I think there’s also a wider modelling (alo spatial decision making system). I’m also talking with Wanda about the potential for the application of Alice in participatory narratives in museum contexts.

This video is from Google Tech talks but it is pretty much an earlier version of the Alice tea-party today, the Alice3 demo is at about 40 minutes (why have they disabled embedding?). Here’s another demo of Alice 3 (wmv).