Computational Literacies Lab


Spring 2021 Course Details

Course Description

Critical Computational Literacies Design Studio is an interdisciplinary community of practice focused on designing theoretically-grounded tools for teaching and learning K-12 computer science (CS). CS is becoming a mainstream subject in K-12 education even though how it will be defined and taught are not yet well-established. Developing tools for teaching and learning presents an opportunity to support teacher practice while enacting a vision of K-12 CS as a culturally-sustaining, justice-oriented practice, and imagining ways in which K-12 CS might contribute to broader transformation of our schools and communities. Over the semester, teams of students will articulate a learning goal and then design, build, deploy, and analyze a computational tool in partnership with a school or community organization.

The course is open to masters and doctoral students. (Undergraduates with relevant experience may be admitted in accordance with university policy. Interested students should contact Dr. Proctor.) There are no prerequisites.

The course is centered around a student-designed project, which hopefully aligns with and supports your exisisting research or career interests. Working in groups of 2-4 (solo projects allowed but not encouraged), students will theorize, design, build, and study a technology for teaching and learning K-12 computing education, broadly defined. This requires skills in three domains:

No prior experience is required in any of these domains. The course is designed to support application of the skills you already have and learning from peers and the professor in areas where you want to grow. Students will be expected to show up, work hard, and to meet commitments to their teammates, but nobody is going to get a lousy grade because they find themselves out of their depth.

{{< info >}} Dr. Proctor answered some questions about prerequisite skills on this UBreddit thread {{< /info >}}

This course is inspired by Paulo Blikstein's Beyond Bits & Atoms (taught at Stanford University and then Teachers College, Columbia University) and Frank Bentley's Understanding Users (taught at MIT and then Stanford University).

Learning Outcome and Program Goals

Program Goals

Critical Computational Literacies Design Studio is part of the Department of Learning and Instruction's Curriculum, Instruction, and the Science of Learning (CISL) PhD program where it can count as a research methods course or for a number of concentrations depending on the nature of your course project.

This course is fundamentally interdisciplinary and students from other schools and departments are warmly welcome. If you are unsure about how this course might fit into your academic program, please contact Dr. Proctor and/or your academic advisor. We will do everything we can to make it work.

Course learning outcomes

This course brings together three disciplinary domains: educational research, learning-centered design, and computer science/engineering. Successful course projects will require your group to:

Within these domains, you will define learning goals for yourself. For example, you might choose this class as an opportunity to learn the basics of programming, to gain experience with learning analytics, or to take a deep dive into a particular area of literature. The class is structured to cultivate interdisciplinary collaboration, so that you can learn from your more-experienced teammates.

Mode of Instruction

Critical Computational Literacies Design Studio is a synchronous online course. Regular attendance, preparation, and participation is essential and required.

Class sessions will focus on developing the competencies listed above, but your group will need some prior experience with educational research, design, and software development. If we consider the course itself as a learning technology, a primary design goal is the sharing of expertise across disciplines.

Beyond teaching content, this course is designed as a space for reflective practice on the nature of computer science learning, and the kinds of thinking and learning relationships we form with computers. You will learn what computer science learning looks like at several different schools, you will reflect on your own learning throughout the course, and through your course project you will participate in enacting new futures for K-12 computer science education.

Required Materials

No texts or software need be purchased for this course. All readings will be accessible from the course website. You will need regular access to a computer and a stable Internet connection. Your computer will need to be able to run Python programs and Processing. (Linux, Mac, and Windows 10 operating systems will be fine. Chromebooks are not sufficient.) Depending on the nature of your final project, you may also need to purchase supplies. Funding may be available for project supplies. If these resources are a challenge for you, please contact Dr. Proctor and we'll figure it out.

Course Assignments

The course has two primary deliverables. The expectation is that these will be completed in groups of 2-3. You may work alone with the permission of the instructor, but past experience suggests interdisciplinary groups are more likely to produce high-quality projects.

  1. A working prototype of an educational technology you designed and built.
  2. A short paper (~4 pages, depending on conference requirements) suitable for submission to an academic conference such as Interaction Design and Children, ACM SIGCSE, ACM CHI, Fablearn, or ICER.

Additionally, milestones are incremental steps toward your final project. If your project were to develop along a linear path, your final project would just be an aggregation of your work in each milestone. However, few projects follow a linear path from start to finish. For example, your learning goal will likely evolve over the semester, so that you need to revise the literature review included in your final paper. Detailed instructions, rubrics, and examples will be distributed when each milestone is assigned.

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Publishing your research

Your deliverable for the class is a paper and demo suitable for submission to an academic conference. There is, however, no requirement to go through with submission. If you would like to submit your work to the conference, keep in mind the following:


A single holistic grade will be assigned for each deliverable, according to rubrics which will be distributed with each assignment. As shown in Table 1, each of the six incremental milestones counts for 10% of the final course grade with the lowest incremental grade dropped. Because incremental milestones will be used on the weeks when they are due (and because it is very difficult to catch up after falling behind), no credit is given for late incremental assignments. The final paper and demo each count for 25% of the course grade.

Table 1. Composition of course grade

Literature Review 10%


Fieldnotes 10%
Conceptual Prototype 10%
UX Research 10%
Critiques 10%
Pilot Study 10%
Paper 25%
Demo 25%

Attendance and participation are essential to success but are not graded. As shown in Figure 1 (below), each week's class forms part of a tight feedback loop with deliverables due shortly thereafter. If you need to miss class, you must communicate with Dr. Proctor and your group ahead of time. These are uncertain times and many of us have responsibilities outside of our studies. If your group knows you will miss a deadline, communicate with me well ahead of time. If we can make a plan for getting you back on track, extensions on deadlines are possible.

Groupwork and grades

Working in groups can be stressful, particularly when your grade depends on your teammates coming through on their commitments. Interdisciplinary collaboration is a core goal of this class, and your experience working with teammates from different backgrounds will likely constitute your most impactful learning in the course. We will explicitly discuss strategies for collaboration and I will be available to support your group as necessary.

That said, conflict within groups is not uncommon. By far the most important strategy for effective groupwork is open, nonviolent communication. I will support you in setting communication norms with your group--how you like to be contacted, when you expect to be available to one another, etc. Then treat communication with your group as you would other responsibilities at school or at work. If something is not working for you, or if you are not going to be able to meet a group commitment, communicate early. Problems do not go away; they just grow. On the other hand, each group member is responsible for listening and creating an environment where teammates feel comfortable speaking up.

If you contact me with concerns about your teammates or group dynamics, I will keep our conversation private (within the bounds of UB's mandated reporter requirements). However, if I mediate conflict within your group, know that you will need to tell your teammates what is not working for you. Resolving conflict, or at least a working relationship which allows your group to complete the course together, is the preferred outcome in most situations. However in past project-based classes, I have sometimes made changes in group composition or assigned different grades for different group members. Such arrangements will be resolved on a case-by-case basis.


If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please inform me early in the semester so that we can coordinate the accommodations you may need. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Accessibility Services (formerly the Office of Disability Services).

All information and documentation is confidential. The University at Buffalo and the Graduate School of Education are committed to ensuring equal opportunity for persons with special needs to participate in and benefit from all of its programs, services and activities.

Academic Integrity

It is expected that you will behave in an honorable and respectful way as you learn and share ideas. Therefore, recycled papers, work submitted to other courses, and major assistance in preparation of assignments without identifying and acknowledging such assistance are not acceptable. All work for this class must be original for this class. Please be familiar with the University and the School policies regarding plagiarism. For more information, see the Academic Integrity Policy and The Graduate School Policies & Procedures.

Course Evaluations

You will have two opportunities to provide anonymous feedback about the course. In the middle of the semester, I will send you a brief questionnaire asking about what activities are contributing to your learning and what might be done to improve your learning. At the conclusion of the semester you will receive an email reminder requesting your participation in the Course Evaluation process. Please provide your honest feedback; it is important to the improvement and development of this course. Feedback received is anonymous and I do not receive copies of the Evaluations until after grades have been submitted for the semester.

Health and Wellness

As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning or reduce your ability to participate in daily activities. These might include strained relationships, anxiety, high levels of stress, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, health concerns, or unwanted sexual experiences. Counseling, Health Services and Health Promotion are here to help with these or other issues you may experience. You can learn more about these program and services by contacting:

Sexual Violence

UB is committed to providing a safe learning environment free of all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking. If you have experienced gender-based violence (intimate partner violence, attempted or completed sexual assault, harassment, coercion, stalking, etc.), UB has resources to help. This includes academic accommodations, health and counseling services, housing accommodations, helping with legal protective orders, and assistance with reporting the incident to police or other UB officials if you so choose. Please contact UB's Title IX Coordinator at 716-645-2266 for more information. For confidential assistance, you may also contact a Crisis Service Campus Advocate at 716-796-4399.

Please be aware UB faculty are mandated to report violence or harassment on the basis of sex or gender. This means that if you tell me about a situation, I will need to report it to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. You will still have options about how the situation will be handled, including whether or not you wish to pursue a formal complaint. Please know that if you not wish to have UB proceed with an investigation, your request will be honored unless UB's failure to act does not adequately mitigate the risk of harm to you or other members of the university community. You also have the option of speaking with trained counselors who can maintain confidentiality. UB's Options for Confidentiality Disclosing Sexual Violence provides a full explanation of the resources available, as well as contact information. You may call UB's Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at 716-645-2266 for more information, and you have the option of calling that office anonymously if you would prefer not to disclose your identity.