Alice and Mediated Transfer – Hugging
By Eric Brown

The art of teaching for transfer, known as mediating transfer is an active research field. 

Perkins (Harvard Graduate School of Education; Forgarty, R.; Perkins, D.; & Barell, J. 1991. The Mindful School: How to Teach for TransferPalatine, IL: IRI/Skylight Publishing. ) and Salomon (University of Arizona: Salomon, G., & Perkins, D. 1988, September. Teaching for transferEducational Leadership, 22-32)  define two broad categories of techniques that teach for transfer. 

I discussed the first category,  bridging, in my last post. The second category, hugging, involves creating a learning situation in which the the current context becomes more like the context in which transfer is expected. In other words, “How is this situation / problem / topic that I am experiencing now, like the new situation / problem / topic that I will soon experience?” 

In Alice 3, we are attempting to mediate the transfer form a drag and drop IDE, into a more traditional IDE for developing Java programs. We use two hugging techniques to accomplish this.

First, Alice 3 has been designed to provide a set of preference options that allows the student to view Java code with greater syntax details than in Alice 2.

In this first screen shot, you see a segment of Alice 3 program code, in Alice display mode.

In the preference settings, there is an option to switch to a Java language display mode,

 which results in the same code fragment to look like this:

This more accurate representation of Java code in the Alice environment is, we believe, a step in the right direction. But it really does not truly “hug” a Java text editor environment. We have developed a plug-in for the Netbeans IDE ( that allows students to transfer their Alice project directly into a Java environment. Their project code will now look like this in the Netbeans IDE.

When a student transfers the Alice project from Alice 3 to a Java IDE, the context does not change. They are still working with the same animation program, solving the same problem (bridging) as was created in Alice but now the code can be modified using traditional text editing.  

In the studies we have conducted with our students at Carnegie Mellon University (an introduction to computer programming course for non-majors), using Alice 3, we found student test scores in our sections showed a dramatic jump of at least one letter grade over test scores in more traditional sections of the same course.

We presented a paper at SIGCSE 2012, detailing our study and findings. The paper is available in the ACM Digital Library 

or here 

if you are interested.