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EarSketch: An Authentic, STEAM-Based Approach to Computing Education

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





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Computing & Information Technology

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Paper Authors


Roxanne Moore Georgia Institute of Technology

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Roxanne Moore is currently a Research Engineer at Georgia Tech with appointments in the school of Mechanical Engineering and the Center for Education Integrating Mathematics, Science, and Computing (CEISMC). She is involved with engineering education innovations from K-12 up to the collegiate level. She received her Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Georgia Tech in 2012.

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Douglas Edwards Georgia Institute of Technology

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Douglas Edwards is a K-12 Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) educational researcher with the Georgia Institute of Technology. His educational experience in the Atlanta area for the past twenty years includes high school mathematics teaching, Math/Science Magnet Program Director, Title I educational data specialist, and Associate Professor of Information Technology. As a former US Air Force electronics engineer, Doug was also an engineering project manager.

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Jason Freeman Georgia Institute of Technology

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Jason Freeman is an Associate Professor of Music at Georgia Tech. His artistic practice and scholarly research focus on using technology to engage diverse audiences in collaborative, experimental, and accessible musical experiences. He also develops educational interventions in K-12, university, and MOOC environments that broaden and increase engagement in STEM disciplines through authentic integrations of music and computing. His music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, exhibited at ACM SIGGRAPH, published by Universal Edition, broadcast on public radio’s Performance Today, and commissioned through support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Freeman’s wide-ranging work has attracted support from sources such as the National Science Foundation, Google, and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music. He has published his research in leading conferences and journals such as Computer Music Journal, Organised Sound, NIME, and ACM SIGCSE. Freeman received his B.A. in music from Yale University and his M.A. and D.M.A. in composition from Columbia University.

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Brian Magerko Georgia Institute of Technology

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Dr. Magerko is an Associate Professor of Digital Media & head of the Adaptive Digital Media (ADAM) Lab at Georgia Tech. He received his B.S. in Cognitive Science from Carnegie Mellon (1999) and his MS and Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Michigan (2001, 2006). His research explores the intersection of creativity, cognition, and computing. This interdisciplinary work leads to studying creativity and human cognition, building artificial intelligence systems that can creatively collaborate with human users, and exploring the use of human creativity as a gateway to better understanding how to effectively teach computing skills. Much of this work results in cutting edge digital media experiences in digital games, interactive narrative, and educational media.

Dr. Magerko has been research lead on over $5 million of federally-funded research; has authored over 60 peer reviewed articles related to cognition, creativity, and computation; has had his work shown at galleries and museums internationally; and co-founded a learning environment for computer science - called EarSketch - that has been used by tens of thousands of learners worldwide.

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Tom McKlin SageFox Consulting Group


Anna Xambo Georgia Institute of Technology

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Anna Xambó is a postdoctoral fellow at Center for Music Technology and Digital Media Program (Georgia Tech) for the EarSketch project. She completed her PhD in computer-supported collaboration on interactive tabletops for music performance at The Open University (UK). Her background is in information and media technologies (MSc Universitat Pompeu Fabra), and anthropology (BA, MA Universitat de Barcelona), specializing in HCI and Music Technology. Her research interests include ways of exploiting music technology and computer music concepts using physical computing and computational tools that can ultimately inform STEAM education, HCI research and Sound and Music Computing (SMC) research. As a composer, performer and producer of experimental electronic music, she performs under different aliases (peterMann, pulso). Her works are usually published through the label Carpal Tunnel.

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Demand for computer scientists is robust, but the pipeline for producing them is not. US universities are only meeting about a third of demand for computer scientists, and recruiting a diverse student body is a struggle; the number of women in computer science has actually declined in the past decade. To help change the perception of the computing field, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology developed EarSketch. EarSketch is an authentic STEAM (STEM + Arts) environment for teaching and learning programming (i.e. where learners are engaged in authentic practices both in computing and in the aesthetics of music remixing) aimed at increasing and broadening participation in computing. In the EarSketch environment, students write code to manipulate, or remix, musical samples. It is an integrated programming environment, digital audio workstation, curriculum, and audio loop library.

EarSketch has already been piloted in multiple classroom environments, including Computer Science Principles (CSP) classes in Atlanta-area high schools, in summer workshops, as part of a MOOC music technology course, in undergraduate computing courses for non-majors, and in a graduate digital media course at Georgia Tech. EarSketch is unique from other STEAM projects in computing education in that it is authentic both from an artistic perspective and from a computing perspective. That is, students create music in popular, personally relevant styles and genres, like dubstep and techno, and also learn to code in an industry-relevant language, like Python or JavaScript, in a free, browser-based environment. In addition, the barriers to entry are kept low; no previous knowledge of music performance or composition is required to engage successfully with EarSketch. In this paper, we present a description of the EarSketch environment and curriculum. We also present an overview of the classroom environments in which EarSketch has been implemented to date, including professional development feedback, student artifacts, student engagement data, and student achievement. The authors believe that EarSketch has the potential to serve as an introductory programming unit for a variety of courses in both pre-college and college settings. Based on initial data, EarSketch is an effective method for teaching programming of musical content and is effective in improving motivation to succeed on computing problems.

Moore, R., & Edwards, D., & Freeman, J., & Magerko, B., & McKlin, T., & Xambo, A. (2016, June), EarSketch: An Authentic, STEAM-Based Approach to Computing Education Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26880

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