Thursday, September 04, 2008 - the 3D programming environment and community

FOC08 Looking for online community: Discussion forums

Great technology can make a huge difference to the community vitality. The task of facilitation changes dramatically when the underling software environment provides information that helps build and sustain the community. It doesn't eliminate or diminish the role of the facilitator, but it does change the nature of the role. More time can be devoted to high-order facilitation tasks when the technology is automatically taking care of basic administration functions, accumulating activity information, and providing direct feedback to the community about itself and its members.

Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience. This is a project of Carnegie Mellon University to explore alternatives to increase enrollments in computer science classes, especially by girls.

The community includes current users of the software, teachers, students and others interested individuals. Where use of Alice is associated with a programming class, students and teacher participation in the community may be limited to the duration of the course session.

Alice community forums Currently Active Users: 42 (3 members and 39 guests) Threads: 1,559, Posts: 6,363, Members: 3,480

  • comprehensive FAQs
  • online form to email administrators
  • administrators, with online/offline status indicator
  • good forum search capability
  • membership restricted areas - calendar
  • registration - forum rules defined, agreement required
  • what's new tab
  • posts are viewable by guests
  • guests (nice word for non-members) Posting Rules You may not post new threads You may not post replies You may not post attachments You may not edit your posts BB code is On Smilies are On [IMG] code is On HTML code is Off
  • classes of members - junior (high school student), senior, administrator, member
  • number of posts - most post 834 (senior member), 10th highest 95 (including 1 of the administrators - third most posts, others all senior members), top 10 total post 2976 of 6363 total (47% of all posts), regular member with highest number of posts 49 posts 15th most
  • last post - today Sept 6, 2008, earliest post - July 2005
  • global participation - CMU is in Pittsburgh, PA, recent questions from Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Canada, Portugal
  • forum very conducive to community - avatars, member stats and information including location, member type, number of postings, member since..
  • Lounge provided for off-topic posts
  • great newsletter
  • members are fielding questions, not just the administrators

Facilitation in the Alice Community Forum

  • not much formal facilitation beyond providing the environment and responding to Alice and forum technology questions
  • some invitations for suggestions and comment - new features, forum organization (gabe)
  • good quick response to most questions, several members (DrJim) are acting as facilitators as well as community members
  • a subgroup of users is working to generate additional interest in the Alice community

Some facilitation suggestions

  • use the What's new forum topic to recognize and promote the work of community members
  • promote the community beyond the community to schools offering Java and other programming languages
  • encourage the community to recruit and spread the word - this is a great tool for teaching and learning Object Oriented Programming (OOP) and could have even wider distribution
  • host an "event" to showcase the work of community members
  • encourage members to complete / expand or update their member profiles
  • suggest that members add a picture or avatar to their profiles
  • seed The Lounge forum with related timely topical questions for discussion
  • add a forum topic to collect links to references to Alice in publications, training materials,...
This is a very nice community for those using it. The technology for the forums promotes the sense of community and allows the facilitators to see and manage the interactions that enhance the community spirit. The infrastructure is in place to support a larger more diverse community. Facilitation efforts can be directed to recruiting new community members from other areas of education.

I wish them every success with the Alice 3D programming environment community and hope that it grows beyond their wildest dreams.

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