Screenshot of Alice programming tool
Screenshot of Alice programming tool

Educating the next generation of computer scientists

Created by Carnegie Mellon University, Alice is suite of freeware designed to be a student’s first introduction to programming and web-based storytelling. Alice uses object-oriented programming (OOP),  allowing students to easily build a virtual 3-D world populated by people, animals, vehicles, and landscapes. This teaching tool provides the framework for storytelling, game creation, and video sharing with a wealth of resources to assist both students and teachers.

Keywords / Definitions

  • Freeware: No-cost software

  • Object-Oriented Programming (OOP): Computer programming language oriented around objects and data

Alice features an interactive interface, where students simply drag and drop graphic tiles to create a cartoon-like narrative to program social exchanges between characters. The software’s tutorial active, where students learn lessons by actually using Alice. The creators at Carnegie Mellon envisioned that the tool would serve as a playful and unintimidating entry point into the limitless world of computer science, ultimately increasing the number of students continuing to study computer science. While Alice is predominantly geared toward middle school students, it is also used in some colleges to teach the fundamentals of programming.

The work that Alice has done at bringing these entertainment oriented activities into schools has been proven through their research to be very effective at reaching women and other underrepresented groups. Showing them that computer science isn’t just people sitting in cubicles writing code all day, but people being creative.
—Randy Bryant, Dean, Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science

Alice was specifically created to introduce students to the basics of computer programming, and more specifically, object-oriented programming (OOP). Its integrated data environment includes a code editor, automation tools, and a built-in debugger so mistakes are simple to find and repair. When students use the graphic tiles to author a story or a game, they are creating a list of visual tasks and subroutines–key concepts in advanced programming. Because Alice is based on visual instructions, students can immediately see how their animations run, enabling them to easily understand the relationship between the programming statements and the behavior of objects on the screen.

Alice must be downloaded onto a computer, so it is best supported in an environment with an available computer lab with ongoing instruction in a classroom setting. Carnegie Mellon provides a robust teacher/student online resource center, as well as annual workshops for educators. In an article published in the Duke Chronicle, Alice is heralded as the ideal tool to aid students transition from novice to having a solid foundation of basic computer programming.

Alice was last modified: April 1st, 2014 by Matt Hannigan