The beta release of Alice 3, the latest version of a unique software environment that makes learning computer programming fun, is now available as a free download at www.alice.org. It includes animated characters and scenes donated by Electronic Arts (EA) from its bestselling PC game, The Sims2™.
"The sophisticated animations from The Sims promises to make Alice 3 a favorite among students, who take for granted the slick graphics of video games and virtual worlds," said Wanda Dann, director of the Alice Project and an associate teaching professor in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science's Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII).
"This version makes Alice an even better teaching tool," she added. "Now, students can seamlessly transition from a simple, mouse-based programming environment to a production-level programming language."
Like earlier Alice versions, Alice 3 allows novices to use a simple drag-and-drop interface to create 3D computer animations. But this latest version also includes an interface that allows advanced students to use a keyboard to create programs written in standard Java, the world's most popular programming language. It also includes a new feature that allows student-created work to be exported to YouTube.
Though still in the beta test stage, Alice 3 is suitable for use in classrooms for the 2009-2010 academic year.
Alice is the brainchild of the late Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor who became famous for his life-affirming "Last Lecture," an Internet video phenomenon that subsequently became a best-selling book. Pausch loved football almost as much as he loved teaching and considered Alice the educational equivalent of a "head fake," the head movement football players use to misdirect an opponent.
"The best way to teach somebody something is to have them think they're learning something else," Pausch explained. With Alice, "the head fake is that they're learning to program, but they just think they're making movies and video games."
The current version, Alice 2.2, has been downloaded millions of times. More than 15 percent of U.S. colleges and universities use Alice and an increasing number of middle and high schools are using the software to teach their students.
Over the next three years, Sun Microsystems will work with the university to globalize Alice, providing tools to translate it into different languages and develop drag-and-drop artifacts unique to a variety of cultures. Sun will work with the Alice development team to bring the system to a worldwide audience of educators and students.
In addition to Sun, the Alice Project has received support from Electronic Arts, National Science Foundation, DARPA, Intel, Microsoft and SAIC, as well as Google, General Dynamics, the Heinz Foundation and the Hearst Foundation.