Get With The Programming

The late Randy Pausch’s ingenious teaching tool, Alice, allows kids to learn computer programming in a fun, positive, virtual environment.

Learning while having fun. That goal was a hallmark of our “Pittsburgher of the Year,” Randy Pausch. Thanks to the extraordinary appeal of his last lecture, the late Carnegie Mellon University professor of computer science, who died of pancreatic cancer in July, has become synonymous with technology in Pittsburgh for millions all over the world.

One of Pausch’s most enduring legacies, Alice, named after the precocious main character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, provides both fun and learning to thousands of students from middle school through college level every day. Alice, an innovative teaching tool, helps students learn fundamental software-programming concepts while creating 3-D animations, stories and video games using an intuitive drag-and-drop interface. Pausch worked on the Alice Project for more than a decade, overseeing its development and acting as its director.

Pausch believed in the power of play, and Alice is designed to make learning fun. Teachers rave. Kristen Milanovich, a multimedia and computer programming teacher at Freedom Area High School in Freedom, Beaver County, says, “Alice is extremely user-friendly. The kids have a blast and learn programming at the same time.” Milanovich points out that girls enjoy Alice, too, because it is similar to the virtual world games, like Sims, that they enjoy. “The girls love it, and they’re telling the other girls. It’s exciting,” she says.

The Sims relationship is not an accident. In fact, Electronic Arts, the maker of Sims, is contributing some of its characters for Alice 3, scheduled for release later this year. According to Wanda Dann, director of the Alice Project, Alice 3 will be a major breakthrough, featuring “a very rich set of animated characters.” In addition, it will be “more video game-like.”
Alice is available as a free download for PC, Mac and Linux at alice.org, and two Alice programs are currently available: Alice 2.0 for high school and college students, and Storytelling Alice for middle school students. No matter what your age, anyone can download Alice, give some programming a try and thank Professor Pausch for the fun.