Today is a special day. Thousands of students from all around the world are learning about 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 to 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 teaches people the basics. The goal of Hour of Code is to 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.
How to access Hour of Code
Hour of Code activities can be accessed on the Hour of Code website (see above), along with several other free resources. No additional downloads or accounts are necessary.
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). 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.
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. This will give them access to a well paying and financially secure job with demand growing every day. I’m proud to be an engineering student with vision impairment, and I know there are many opportunities for people to follow in my footsteps.
Required technology skills
Since the premise of Hour of Code 2018 is that anybody can code, there are no prerequisite technology skills. I’ll go into more detail about activities in a bit.
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 like I did. Here are the different types of devices and their benefits:
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.
Android phones or tablets can access the Hour of Code website with no additional downloads. In fact, one of my friends with low vision actually prefers to do Hour of Code activities on their phone. This way, they can easily hold it close to their face and use familiar gesture controls.
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 completing activities- most activities were not VoiceOver compatible.
Teachers can connect a computer to a projector 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. Another option would be to use a Chromecast to broadcast the website tab to a TV,
For schools that don’t have technology, there are a few activities that are available in free downloadable PDF formats. These documents can be made accessible for students with print disabilities.
Picking an activity
With dozens of activities available, it’s hard to pick just one to participate in for Hour of Code. Activity filters include grade level, topics, language, programming type (drag-and-drop blocks or typing), and by technology skill level. They are created by corporate partners such as Google and by the nonprofit organization Code.Org, who develops Hour of Code. Activities are available for all age and ability levels from pre-readers to high school.
I’m not recommending any specific activities because every classroom is unique. I believe that students should be able to choose what activity they want to play with, so they will be more likely to participate.
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 to organize my thoughts. Another interesting idea would be to convert the activity screen into a tactile display on paper so students can follow along that way
Quorum for screen readers
Yes, screen reader users can participate in Hour of Code! Quorum is a programming language designed for screen reader users with two Hour of Code activities for students. The activities are created with universal design in mind, so any student can participate in the text-based activities.
Other recommendations from Hour of Code
Hour of Code recommends awarding students for participation rather than completion. This way, 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 an hour learning about programming. When I participated in Hour of Code, I found that I didn’t complete a lot of activities during the hour. However, it inspired me to pursue an information technology degree where I have spent several hundred hours learning about programming and coding.
As cliché as it may seem, I wish that Hour of Code was around when I was a student. It’s such an interesting and fun introduction to the world of computer science. Out of all of the students in my class, my teachers never would expect 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.