Learning When Less is More: “Bootstrapping” Undergraduate Programmers as Coordination Designers

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Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility

In this paper, we describe an undergraduate computer science class in the United States that we started with the intention of creating a participatory design experience to create distributed mobile collaborative technologies for education. The case highlights the ways in which programmer understanding of an innovative new technology can depend on understanding the context of use. The students were to use Tuple-spaces, a language for coordination. However, it soon became clear that while the coordination of machines may be thought of as a computer science problem, the students could not understand the technical system without richer models of how, why, or when coordination is desirable. We were in the ironic position of teaching human coordination at the same time as describing the technical properties of a system to support it. To “bootstrap” the learning process, we asked the students to draw on their own coordination expertise by implementing familiar coordinative games. We propose games as an addition to the PD toolkit when implementers need help in stepping outside their everyday mindset.

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