Computer Science DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science

Decoding Code

Computer Science faculty and students recently hosted a campus-wide interactive event designed to demystify computer programming.

The ‘Hour of Code’, part of the Computer Science department’s celebration of national Computer Science Education Week, drew 45 students and professors from varied disciplines.  The Hour of Code is organized by the nonprofit and was created to help teach students critical skills for 21st-century success.

The activity was designed as a zombie apocalypse computer game to teach individuals with no technical expertise the basics of coding. Instead of programming by writing blocks of text, participants used Blockly– a visual programming system that allows the user to drag and drop blocks that snap together.  Each block represented one line of code.  The goal was to arrange blocks together that would instruct the zombie to move.

“I took coding as an undergraduate and it was torture,” said Shawn Thelen, PhD, professor of marketing and international business.  “This was fun!  My 12-year old son has taken these courses and he programs for fun on his own.  I look forward to doing it with him now that I see how enjoyable it is.”

Participants were given 20 puzzles to complete.  Each level got a little more challenging with more complicated combinations of instructions. The key to completing each puzzle was to identify a pattern of blocks. 

“A key aspect of computational thinking is patterns,” Roberto Joseph, PhD, associate professor of teaching, learning and technology explained.  “The ‘aha!’ moment comes when you can find the pattern and code for that, but you don’t always see it right away.”

Dr. Krishnan Pillaipakkamnatt, department chair, organized this year’s event.  He said the Hour of Code will become an annual event. 

“Computer science is changing virtually every industry and coding-in particular-provides students with a competitive advantage in the global marketplace,” Dr. Pillaipakkamnatt said.  “Unfortunately, many people perceive coding as overly complicated and intimidating but we’d like to change that.”

Ford Filandro ’21, a student in the Frank G. Zarb School of Business, decided to attend the Hour of Code because he believes that coding is a skill that is important to learn for students entering the workforce.

“I really enjoyed the Hour of Code event. It gave me insight into coding and how coders think,” Filandro said.  “I believe once you become fluent in the coding language your job opportunities skyrocket and that is definitely something that interests me.”

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