Mike Horn Receives Prestigious CAREER Award to Expand Computing

Mike Horn Receives Prestigious CAREER Award to Expand Computing

Michael Horn

Assistant professor Michael Horn received a prestigious CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study computational literacy in informal learning environments. “A major goal of the five-year project will be to study existing cultural forms of literacy as a way to help broaden participation in computing,” says Horn.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research, according to NSF. Horn received this award in the amount of $600,000 through the Advancing Informal STEM Learning program.

His project “Blocks, Stickers, and Puzzles: Rethinking Computational Literacy Experiences in Informal Environments” will focus on experiences outside the classroom that can engage and prepare young people in computational literacy.

“Engaging a broad and diverse audience in the future of STEM computing fields is an urgent priority of the U.S. education system, both in schools and beyond,” says Horn. “This project complements substantial existing efforts to promote in-school computational literacy and, if successful, help bring about a more representative, computationally empowered citizenry.”

Even though a large portion of STEM jobs in the United States are projected to be in computing, participation by women and other historically underrepresented groups is persistently low. Horn’s project stems from the idea that throughout childhood, informal experiences in and outside of school encourage young people to become involved with computing courses and programs later in high school and college.

“Formal experiences with computational literacy alone are insufficient for developing the next generation of scientists, engineers and citizens,” according to Horn. For that reason, he seeks to develop a framework for rethinking computational literacy in informal environments in an effort to draw in a broad and diverse group of participants.

This work starts from the premise that new forms of computational literacy will grow out of existing “cultural forms,” such as counting songs for mathematical literacy and building with blocks for spatial learning. Many of these forms occur at home in families, in school between teachers and students, and in various places between friends and siblings. “I am particularly interested in studying existing cultural forms of learning, literacy and play as a starting point for broadening what we mean by computational literacy and broadening participation in a computational future,” Horn says.

This research focuses on three questions:

  • How can cultural forms help shape experiences in informal learning environments?
  • How do different cultural forms relate to young people’s identity needs and motivations?
  • How can new types of computational literacy experiences based on these forms be created?

Much of the Horn’s work will involve creating new learning experiences in the form of museum exhibits, games, and other out-of-school activities. He has a decade of experience designing and studying computational literacy experiences across a range of learning settings including museums, homes, out-of-school programs and classrooms.

Horn’s research is very design based, and his lab is a team of designers, artists, learning scientists and computer scientists. The lab develops and tests prototypes in real-world places.

Horn and his team have designed interactive exhibits and learning experiences for museums around the country, including the California Academy of Sciences, Chicago’s Field Museum and Boston’s Museum of Science.

The lab’s most recent exhibit, to open at the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley, presents visitors with an interactive computer programming experience using a large interactive tabletop display. Visitors use a simple blocks-based programming language to control the actions of colorful frogs that hop around a virtual lily pond.
By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 2/4/16