A Comparison of Physical and Digital Design for Computer Science Education

Dr. Betsy Disalvo
Michael J. Johnson

Previous research on increasing interest and teaching computational thinking to young people has leveraged many digital and physical making activities. These two modalities of exploring computer science each bring their own affordances and bottlenecks to the learning process. However, how these differences impact learning about the same topic is not widely explored. In this abstract, we present an ongoing study to compare high school students from underrepresented groups learning about complex adaptive systems with physical computing and with a screen-based simulation environment. Preliminary results show that the screen-based environment offers students the ability to experiment on their own more confidently, rapidly prototyping solutions to simulate the problems they wish to study. In future work, a more formal comparison between these methods will be conducted that alternates which modality students are exposed to first.

Betsy DiSalvo

The CAT Lab studies how culture impacts the use and production of technology with a focus on learning applications, computer science education and designing new technologies with culture as a point of convergence.