Sayamindu Dasgupta PhD Dissertation Defense

August 2, 2016


MIT Media Lab, E14-633


Data is a powerful lens for learning about the world. Driven by advances in computational technologies and methods that make it easier to collect, store, and analyze vast amounts of data about our world, data science has emerged as a new discipline with immense possibilities for discovery and learning. However, these possibilities are primarily accessible for adult experts -- in this thesis, Dasgupta develops and examines new pathways to support children as data scientists.
In the first part of this thesis, Dasgupta studies children's use of variables and lists in the Scratch programming environment. Dasgupta quantitatively studies the ways in which children use variables and lists in Scratch (e.g., to keep score in games), as well as factors that foster this engagement. Dasgupta finds support for the theory that children learn to use data-structures through remixing their peers' works, as well through looking at source code of projects created by their peers. Dasgupta also finds evidence to suggest that providing more powerful uses of data-structures (such as data-persistence) leads to children using more data structures overall.
In the second part of the thesis, Dasgupta introduces a new system, Scratch Community Blocks, that enables children to create projects that access and analyze data from the Scratch online community (e.g., creating visualizations that show which programming blocks they used in their projects or analyzing trends in the popularity of their projects within the community). Through artifact-based case studies, interviews, and survey responses collected from a group of children using the system, Dasgupta shows how children use data and programming to answer their own questions about learning and social behavior within the Scratch community. Dasgupta finds that children use Scratch Community Blocks not only to create with data through stories and games, but also to think with data by engaging in self-reflection about their own learning and social participation, and through critical conversations about the role of data within the culture of the Scratch community.

Host/Chair: Mitchel Resnick


Hal AbelsonBenjamin Mako Hill

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