Today is a special day, because thousands of students from all around the world are going to be introduced to computer science for the first time with Hour of Code, many from underrepresented populations. This includes students that are using assistive technology with Hour of Code and seeing how they can learn more about an exciting and growing field that has lots of fascinating applications and job opportunities. Today, I will be sharing my tips for using assistive technology with Hour of Code, in honor of Computer Science Education Week.
What is Hour of Code?
Hour of Code is a free one-hour introduction to computer science and programming that is designed to teach people the basics and show that anyone can participate in the fields of computer science, information technology, and related disciplines. People participate from all over the world in Hour of Code, including 200,000 educators and 400 corporate partners. It takes place each year during Computer Science Education Week, which is held in honor of computing pioneer Grace Hopper's birthday. Read more about Hour of Code on their website here.
How to access Hour of Code
Hour of Code activities can be accessed on the Hour of Code website here, along with several other free resources. No additional downloads or accounts are needed.
Why to participate in Hour of Code
My high school technology teacher encouraged us to participate in Hour of Code during my senior year of high school (which was also the first year the program was offered)- read more about my technology class and how I became a Microsoft Office Specialist here. I had already made the decision to major in a computer science-related field, but participating in Hour of Code helped me to feel more comfortable with that decision as I learned about basic logic structures and wrote my first program. I believe that as more students participate in Hour of Code, they will be inspired to make the same choice I did to major in computer science or a related field, which will give them access to a well paying and financially secure job. I'm proud to be a vision impaired engineering student, and I know there are many opportunities for people to follow in my footsteps and study this topic as well. Read about my experiences meeting other vision impaired students at Grace Hopper Celebration 2018 here.
Required technology skills
Since the premise of Hour of Code 2018 is that anybody can code, there are no prerequisite technology skills other than typing in the website and selecting an activity. I'll go into more detail about activities in a bit. Speaking of technology skills, read more about technology skills every college student should have before transition here.
Choosing a device for activities
There are several different devices to choose from for doing an Hour of Code activity. Students with disabilities may choose to use a different device than the rest of the class, so I'm going to break down the benefits of each device:
Hour of Code does not specify an operating system, so these activities can be completed on any type of computer. If a student has accommodations for use in the computer lab, I recommend using them- read more about my computer lab accommodations here.
Android phones or tablets can be used to access the Hour of Code website, so students can use their own technology. One of my friends with low vision prefers to do these activities on their phone because they can easily hold it close to their face and use familiar gesture controls. Read more about my Android Pie accessibility settings here.
For students who use an iPad in the classroom, they can complete Hour of Code activities directly on the device. I found that the Zoom magnifier function helped me a lot when doing this, so it would be a great way to practice using that technology. Read more about iPad accessibility settings here.
Activities that can be completed on the computer can be projected onto a screen so that more than one student can participate at once. I used this when I was testing some of the block-style games so I could easily magnify the text- read more about making things on the board easier to see here. Another option would be to use a Chromecast to broadcast the website tab to a TV- read more about Chromecast here.
For schools that don't have technology, there are a few activities that don't require technology and are downloadable in PDF form for free. These documents can be made accessible for students with print disabilities- read more about print disabilities here.
Picking an activity
With dozens of activities available, it's hard to pick just one to participate in for Hour of Code. Activities can be filtered by grade level, topics, language, programming type (drag-and-drop blocks or typing), and by technology skill level. Activities are developed by corporate partners such as Google and by the nonprofit organization Code.Org, which is the organization behind Hour of Code. I like that there are activities available for pre-readers so that young children with low vision can be included and can use technology they are comfortable with.
I'm not recommending any specific activities because every classroom is unique and I believe that students should be able to choose what activity they want to play with, since that makes them more likely to engage in said activity.
Using a partner
Some students with vision impairment may feel uncomfortable participating in activities that require selecting items from a small drop-down menu. To alleviate this, students can use a partner that will assist them in clicking items. One of the things that helps me when doing this is writing out the functions and objective of the activity so that I can properly dictate what I want to do. Another interesting idea would be to convert the activity screen into a tactile display on paper so students can follow along that way- read more about creating a tactile display here.
Quorum for screen readers
Yes, screen reader users can participate in Hour of Code! Quorum is a programming language designed for screen reader users and has two Hour of Code activities for students available. The activities are created with universal design in mind, so any student can participate in the text-based activities. Check out the astronomy-themed activity for beginners here and the Coding with Mary activity for more technology-savvy users here.
Other recommendations from Hour of Code
Hour of Code recommends awarding students for participation rather than completion, so that students don't feel pressured to do everything within an hour. After all, the purpose of Hour of Code is to encourage students to spend more than just an hour learning about programming and to spark an interest in the topic. When I participated in Hour of Code, I found that I didn't complete a lot of activities during the hour, but it inspired me to pursue an information technology degree where I have spent several hundred hours since then learning about programming and coding.
As cliché as it may seem, I wish that Hour of Code was around when I was a student in Virginia Public Schools. It's such an interesting and fun introduction to the world of computer science, and Virginia has thousands of open jobs in computer science, and it's only expected to grow. Out of all of the students in my class, my teachers never would have expected me to go into a STEM field because of my vision impairment, but once I saw all of the interesting ways that computer science concepts could be applied to help others, I never thought about studying anything else. I highly recommend participating in Hour of Code and seeing how it can change your perspective on computer programming.