Supporting Computational Literacy by Designing a Collaborative Platform at the Intersection of Music and Code

Project: Research project

Project Details


Project Summary: This RETTL proposal is a partnership between Northwestern University and the McGaw YMCA of Evanston, Illinois to develop innovative technologies for learners in out-of-school programs. Through this work the project team will design and build technology that empowers ensemble musical performances with code and advance the field of collaborative learning technology, where both co-located and distributed learners are full participants. The project aims to develop foundational computational literacy skills for middle and high school youth whose voices have been historically marginalized in computing fields. Building on prior NSF support (grants 1612619, 1451762, and 1837661), we will develop an online learning environment that affords distributed, synchronous collaboration among student peers to create musical compositions using Python code (TunePad Jam Sessions). We are specifically interested in the domain of music as a culturally relevant domain that both reinforces and is reinforced by computational literacy skills.
Intellectual Merit: Young people's creative experiences with computing can have a critical impact on their academic and career trajectories. Using the proposed collaborative music+coding platform, students would have the freedom to tinker creatively, learn from their peers, and playfully confront culturally ingrained expectations about who can and should be a “computer person”. The proposed work seeks to address the following research questions:
a) Technology Innovation: How can we design technology that empowers ensemble musical performances with code? What are the foundational affordances of this technology to facilitate both co-located (multiple learners on the same physical stage), or distributed (multiple learners performing on a virtual livestream) musical performances?
b) New Models for Learning with Technology: How do we best design collaborative music+coding environments, and what are the affordances of such environments for distributed collaboration, creativity, and computational literacy?
c) Broadening Participation: Can the intersection of music and computational literacy provide a context for prolonged interest and engagement for young people who have been historically marginalized in computing careers? And can code become a socially and culturally relevant medium of expression for creating and sharing music?
We expect this work to contribute to STEM & arts interventions, informal learning in STEM, and creative and embodied approaches to computing.
Broader Impact: STEM related careers are increasingly computational in nature, yet participation rates of women and students of color in post-secondary computing fields remain discouragingly and persistently low (Zweben & Bizot, 2020). One of the most important findings from research in computer science education is the degree to which a diversity of computational experiences (at many ages and in many settings) shape young people's trajectories through high school and into undergraduate degree programs. Students draw on the wealth of these experiences to define themselves, to persist in college, and to move on to careers in computing (e.g. Margolis & Fisher, 2003; Margolis, 2008; DiSalvo et al., 2013). Just as early language and mathematics literacy begins at home and is reinforced throughout childhood through a variety of experiences both in school and out, this proposal argues that we cannot rely on formal experiences with computational literacy alone to develop the next generation of scientists, engineers, and citizens. In short, this pr
Effective start/end date9/1/218/31/24


  • National Science Foundation (IIS-2119701)


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