EarSketch: An Authentic, STEAM-based Approach to Computing Education

Demand for computer scientists is robust, but the pipeline for producing them is not. US universities are only meeting about a third of demand for computer scientists, and recruiting a diverse student body is a struggle; the number of women in computer science has actually declined in the past decade. To help change the perception of the computing field, researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology developed EarSketch. EarSketch is an authentic STEAM (STEM + Arts) environment for teaching and learning programming (i.e. where learners are engaged in authentic practices both in computing and in the aesthetics of music remixing) aimed at increasing and broadening participation in computing. In the EarSketch environment, students write code to manipulate, or remix, musical samples. It is an integrated programming environment, digital audio workstation, curriculum, and audio loop library. EarSketch has already been piloted in multiple classroom environments, including Computer Science Principles (CSP) classes in Atlanta-area high schools, in summer workshops, as part of a MOOC music technology course, in undergraduate computing courses for non-majors, and in a graduate digital media course at Georgia Tech. EarSketch is unique from other STEAM projects in computing education in that it is authentic both from an artistic perspective and from a computing perspective. That is, students create music in popular, personally relevant styles and genres, like dubstep and techno, and also learn to code in an industry-relevant language, like Python or JavaScript, in a free, browser-based environment. In addition, the barriers to entry are kept low; no previous knowledge of music performance or composition is required to engage successfully with EarSketch. In this paper, we present a description of the EarSketch environment and curriculum. We also present an overview of the classroom environments in which EarSketch has been implemented to date, including professional development feedback, student artifacts, student engagement data, and student achievement. The authors believe that EarSketch has the potential to serve as an introductory programming unit for a variety of courses in both pre-college and college settings. Based on initial data, EarSketch is an effective method for teaching programming of musical content and is effective in improving motivation to succeed on computing problems.

Moore, R., Edwards, D., Freeman, J., Magerko, B., McKlin, T., and Xambó, A. (2016). EarSketch: An Authentic, STEAM-based Approach to Computing Education, in Proceedings of the 2016 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Expo, New Orleans, Louisiana.