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STEAM-Based Interventions in Computer Science: Understanding Feedback Loops in the Classroom

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

CoED: Computer Science Topics

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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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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Michael Helms Georgia Institute of Technology


Jason Freeman Georgia Tech

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Jason Freeman is a 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 Turbulence. 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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Many organizations are seeking to address the need for greater numbers of computer scientists in the US, and in particular, more women and underrepresented minorities. It is not uncommon to develop curriculum that relies heavily on cutting edge technology and computing tools designed to make computing more compelling. Many curriculum developers are seeking to promote creativity as a part of computing, and often do so using STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) based interventions where the arts play a prominent role in the classroom. EarSketch, a web-based computer science instructional tool, is an example of a STEAM-based instructional innovation, where students learn programming skills while engaging in authentic music mixing practices. EarSketch allows students to remix musical samples into original musical compositions, often within hours of first exposure to the application, while simultaneously picking up programming skills. However, there can be hidden challenges to student learning that may not be readily apparent upon observation.

In our efforts to understand the classroom and school level factors that affect successful implementation of EarSketch in computer science classrooms, models were created to explain certain observed behaviors in the classroom. Using Causal Loop Diagrams (CLD’s), a tool from systems engineering and operations research, we have identified reinforcing feedback loops that can result in ‘virtuous’ or ‘vicious’ cycles of student learning with respect to programming. In both cases, the students appear engaged with the activity, but in some cases, fixation on the arts piece, in this case the music, supersedes the students’ active learning of programming and computational thinking practices (the intended learning outcomes in a computer science course.)

In this paper, we present the causal loop diagrams developed to explain the relationships between the actors and attributes involved in implementing EarSketch in a particular school setting. The diagram allows us to better make decisions that ensure both an engaging but also effective STEAM-based computing curriculum. In addition, possible broader ramifications of the results will be explored. The authors expect that virtuous and vicious cycles may be common in other STEAM and technology-based curricular interventions designed to be highly engaging for students. The authors also see potential parallels to engineering curriculum—is time spent ‘tinkering’ leading to student learning of engineering processes? The hope is that awareness of the possible challenges, as evidenced by the feedback loops, will help other interventions implement successfully.

Moore, R., & Helms, M., & Freeman, J. (2017, June), STEAM-Based Interventions in Computer Science: Understanding Feedback Loops in the Classroom Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28842

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