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Musical expertise as a scaffold for novice programming

This study addresses the role of musical expertise on novice computer programming. Engaging novices with computer programming is one of the great challenges of computer science education. Although there is extensive research focusing on constructionist approaches to programming education and creative entry points to programming, little research addresses the topic of how musical expertise informs an unstructured programming activity. To answer this question I focused on the role of participant talk during programming, patterns in participant programming, and evidence of computational thinking in participants’ final Scratch projects.
For this interpretivist study, I worked with a dozen novice programmers from a variety of musical backgrounds: classical musicians, jazz musicians, composers, and non- musicians. Each participant worked on a free-form musical project in the Scratch programming environment. I collected data including participant talk, screen recordings of participant programming, and participants’ final Scratch projects.
Overall, musical participants more readily took to the numeracy involved in programming music in Scratch. Also, musical participants were able to use musical concepts and techniques as jumping-off points for programming challenges. Considering my results by participant group, composers stood out in a number of ways: working the
longest, testing their programs the most often, adding Scratch objects the slowest, v
removing the most Scratch objects, creating projects of the greatest nested depth, and unanimous use of operators and random numbers. Non-musicians, on the other hand, worked for the shortest amount of time, added the fewest Scratch objects, and created projects of the lowest nested depth.
In addition to adding to the body of research around chunking and tinkering, this study reinforces the importance of context and comfort in an introduction to computer programming. Composition may be an especially rich area to leverage, given the design- like programming activity of the composers here. Future research projects could resemble this one while focusing on younger learners, explicit musical concepts like those invoked by participants, or alternative performing arts framings such as theater or dance. / text
Date04 September 2015
CreatorsBenton, Thomas Jonathan
ContributorsHughes, Joan E.
Source SetsUniversity of Texas
Detected LanguageEnglish

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