The Spirit of Scratch: My Interview with Vanessa Gennarelli

This interview is part of my ongoing research/writing project for Mozilla. That research involves my asking the question "Do we need Scratch for HTML5?" to a bunch of folks who are thinking about teaching, learning, writing, coding, building, computing, creating and other associated verbs.

So when Vanessa Gennarelli left a comment on a recent blog post of mine about another Mozilla project, Hacksaurus, I knew I had to talk to her. The comment was smart (she pointed out that Hackasaurus was more Web co-construction than de-construction), and she referenced a blog post of hers on the topic of remixing, OER, and Scratch -- even smarter!

Gennarelli's a grad student at Harvard, a student and instructor at P2PU, an editor at Flat World Knowledge, and a poet. All of those things are relevant, I would argue, to questions about Web building and sharing and creation, but add to the mix that some of Gennarelli's research this term is with the Scratch community itself, and, well… you can imagine we had a great chat.

 

My notes and questions follow…

What is Scratch? Scratch as tool?  Scratch as remix? "Scratch as a learning product" (one that teaches computational thinking?)? "Scratch as spirit"? (That spirit, argues Gennarelli is in the community.) Scratch as "a cluster of ideas that shape your attitudes." Can we think about HTML5 that way?

Importance of community: Having a safe space to create. Creating a safe space to create and, when you're ready, share it with the world. How is having the building occur offline (as currently happens with Scratch) different than building online -- on the Web and for the Web? Is there a difference between building in a "sandbox" and building on the Web?

How do we address concerns about the Web not being a safe space for "kids" to create? Is that really the case? Is this just a generational thing? (Parents and teachers concerns more than kids themselves.)  Working out in the open can be terrifying. But it can also be incredible generative.

How does having an audience on the Web change the way in which we create? (We discussed the difference between academic writing versus blogging -- that's something that affects form, content, voice, fears, strengths, engagement). How do we help support other creators in "opening yourself up to other people"?  Writing on the Web is like "peer review everywhere, in all aspects." Again, (how) can we transfer that same idea to Web-building?

[At this point in the conversation, we did get a little sidetracked on the subject of robot graders, a topic that often makes me feel like a bit of a Cassandra, but that in this case Gennarelli was able to agree: Yikes!]

Feedback, visualization, and engagement: How does the community around Scratch, particularly the statistics around the various activities affect learners' belonging and engagement? Does it motivate them to try something new? How can tools support feedback -- feedback in terms of code and in terms of community?



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