Wednesday, October 21, 2015

VL/HCC Day 3

I will state again, I love VL/HCC :)
If ever given the opportunity to go (if you do any human centric or visual language research), GO! It's valuable in so many ways...even the talks you think you're not interested in you end up loving. Like today's keynote...I thought, not another blocks talk...and then it happened. And I was glad I was there.

The keynote today was titled "Taking Stock of Blocks: Promises and Challenges of Blocks Programming Languages" given by Franklyn Turbak of Wellesley College Computer Science Department. I was going to write a post about it, but Felienne already did a great job, so check it out!

One thing I found interesting is that there is a long history of blocks-based programming. Here is the lineage discussed in the talk:

Blox (Glinert, 1986) - first time puzzle pieces used to represent code
LogoBlocks (Begel, 1996)
Alice (Pausch et al., 2001) - 3D animations; evolved from Python to drag and drop
PicoBlocks (Bonta, Silverman, et al., 2006) - microprocessor for robotics; passes the "Lucite Test" - imagine constructing out of physical blocks; also has extension language
Scratch (Resnick et al., 2007) - best of Alice and PicoBlocks
StarLogo TNG (Roque, Wendel, et al., 2007) - created OpenBlocks frameworks for other to build language
BYOB/Snap! (Harvey et al., 2008) - have first class functions
App Inventor Classic - clunky
Blockly (Fraser, 2012) - javascript based (embedded in web browser); mutators = edit blocks with other mini block language
App Inventor 2 (2013) - local variables, improved parameters
PencilCode (Bau 2013) - toggle between blocks and text in interesting way
Droplets (Bau 2014) - '' ''

Languages with physical blocks (cool!)
Robot Park
Tangible Kindergarten

As the conference comes to an end, I think about how grateful I am for the experiences I've had and continue to have as PhD student. I met and connected with one of my research/blogging idols (Felienne - we even had drinks together! :D), made some new unexpected connections with other researchers that I should definitely know (Mark Guzdial, Caitlin Kelleher,  Ronald Metoyer to name a few), and even made the realization that I've advanced in my field/area as I know more and more people that I encounter at these conferences (and they actually like my research!!). It's venues like VL/HCC where I feel like I get the most value as a researcher -- I'm walking away more ready and confident than I came. And that's alright :).

Favorites talks (from first session -- took second half to visit family :D):

A Syntax-Directed Keyboard Extension for Writing Source Code on Touchscreen Devices
Islam Almusaly and Ronald Metoyer

Adapting Higher-order List Operators for Blocks Programming
Soojin Kim and Franklyn Turbak
PHOLOs - "Pseduo-Higher-Order Operators"

Hub Map: A new approach for visualizing traffic data sets with multi-attribute link data
Andrew Simmons, Iman Avazpour, Hai L. Vu, Rajesh Vasa
perfect for venue location (ATL known for traffic)

Interesting papers (missed the talk):
Natural Language Programming: Designing Effective Environments for Novices
Judith Good and Katherine Howland

A Principle Evaluation for a Principled Idea Garden
Will Jerigan, Amber Horvath, Michael Lee, Margaret Burnett, Taylor Cuilty, Sandeep Kuttal, Anicia Peters, Irwin Kwan, Faezeh Bahmani, Andrew Ko

Enabling Independent Learning of Programming Concepts through Programming Completion Puzzles
Kyle J. Harms, Noah Rowlett, Caitlin Kelleher


  1. Hey there,

    thanks for your posts about the VL/HCC conference. I'm a brazilian PhD student doing research on Computational Thinking (which as you mentioned was the main topic of this conference) and I couldn't be there due to many reasons (flight prices was one of them :) ) but your posts helped me getting a glimpse of what I've missed :) I guess you did not take part in the Blocks and Beyond workshop, did you?

    Anyway, thanks again and good luck in you journey to your PhD! :)

    1. Hi Cleyton,

      I'm so glad you found my posts useful! I have a friend who got his PhD in Brazil and is currently a professor at Federal University of Campina Grande; super cool you found my blog post :)

      I didn't take part in the Block and Beyond Workshop, but I heard it was chock full of goodness. Someone else may have blogged about it - I know Felienne Hermans blogs a lot and she attended.

      Good luck to you as well in your endeavors! :)