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CMU software streamlines 3D programming


Carnegie Mellon University is getting set to release an updated version of its popular animation-based software program "Alice," developed by the late "last lecture" professor Randy Pausch to teach computer programming.

Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor and pioneer of virtual reality research, was involved with the Alice software project. He died at age 47 of pancreatic cancer last July, 10 months after giving his "last lecture" about facing death that became an internet sensation and spawned his best-selling book, The Last Lecture.

Alice 3–expected to debut later this week, according to university officials–is designed to teach programming using a "drag and drop" interface to create 3D animations. The latest version, which will be available free of charge at www.alice.org, also lets advanced users create programs in the Java programming language.

Users can select hundreds of character objects and scenes from the popular video game "The Sims" to make and control virtual worlds.

Hundreds of colleges and numerous middle and high schools use Alice software to teach programming, according to Carnegie Mellon. The program is designed to serve as an introductory programming course for school-aged children, and the web site, www.aliceprogramming.net, has instructor’s materials that supplement the Alice 3 textbook.

Alice "dispels the impression that computer programming is all about arcane notations and requires years of training before it becomes possible to create interesting results," Randal Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science, said in a statement.

Pausch saw an early version of Alice 3 shortly before his death.

"To the extent that you can live on in something, I will live on in Alice," he said during his final lecture.

Educators who encounter debugging or troubleshooting problems with the new Alice 3 program can visit aliceprogramming.net and read tips on common issues. The site shows the minimum hardware and software specifications needed to use Alice 3 on classroom computers, what to do when Alice characters’ colors won’t change, and how to play audio files in the program.

In a July 7 blog post by the Alice 3 development team, a programmer wrote, "The Alice team recognized the need for great support materials for teachers, which led to the development of [aliceprogramming.net]."

"And actually, it turns out that once some basic, almost minimal guidance is provided, students can go a long way," the blog post said.

The blog warns visitors that the new Alice program is "not for the faint of heart," and that support and supplemental advice will be critical in helping students use the 3D interface.

"If I had to guess, the people who are most likely to adopt Alice 3 right away will be those who are drawn by the smoother transition to Java," the blog read. "Even in its infancy, Alice 3 really has a leg up on Alice 2 in this regard."

Alice 3 workshops have been held throughout the summer as educators prepare to integrate the program into everyday lessons. Workshops were held at Texas A&M University and Duke University in June, among other campuses nationwide.

Links:

Alice blog

Alice home page

Learning to Program with Alice

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