VL/HCC 2017 Summary

Guest post by Denae Ford, PhD student at NC State University.

This year’s IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC) was hosted in the beautiful City of Oaks—Raleigh, North Carolina. This was only my 2nd VL/HCC, but from what I could tell the atmosphere was still filled with familiar faces with innovative approaches and exciting results to share!

The conference was hosted in the Marbles Kids Museum which appropriately matched the Programming and Play special topic from the call for papers (CFP). This year’s conference was also co-located with 2nd Blocks and Beyond Workshop which brought many researchers interested in the K-12 learning gains from block-based interfaces. I really think this was a new twist from last year’s VL/HCC co-location with PPIG in Cambridge, UK.

I think the best representation of all the refreshing intersection was at the reception on Wednesday night at the Nature Research Center. The evening consisted of graduate consortium posters, showpieces, and demonstrations around the exhibits ocean excursions, microorganisms, and unraveled DNA. One very cool demo was by Alessio Malizia where he demoed a tool named TAPASPlay which used shapes as input and output of an algorithm to teach computational thinking.

Nature Research Center.

During the days, there were many amazing talks were given, but I’ll just highlight a few here:

Mary Beth Kery, a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University, presented the high value of exploratory programming from prior literature but also what it could mean for data scientist and other types of programmers learning through play(trial and error).

Titus Barik
, researcher at Microsoft Research, presented nostalgic concepts of play that got many of us into programming and reflected on how those concepts are reflected in how we program today.


I, Denae Ford, also presented our work on peer parity and presented how we can use identity to help programmers re-engage in online Q&A communities. I’ve shared my slides, paper, and blog online!

Chris Crawford, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama, presented the very meta experience of programming using alpha and beta waves of EEG into block programming environments.

Betsy DiSalvo, was or final keynote of the day and discussed how we use metaphors to understand concepts in CS, see Value-driven Learning: Decoding and Building upon Playful Computing Education. However, she shined light on the fact that those concepts are only specific to culture are difficult to expand beyond the context of a single lens of white men. This becomes an issue when programmers from different cultures try to enter the field. She challenged us to examine our language, what we consider playful, what our audience values, and to self-reflect on our expert blind spots.

Betsy DiSalvo.

I also attended the graduate consortium, chaired by Eric Walkingshaw where it was a very welcoming atmosphere for feedback. Faculty panelists also include Marian Petre, Katie Stolee, and Scott Fleming.

I must say it was one of the most constructive doctoral consortiums I have ever attended. The feedback was practical, healthy difference in approaches, large projects were scoped, and the students were very engaged.

For more updates on the happenings of the conference you can check out the hashtag #VLHCC17. We hope to see you in Lisbon, Portugal for VL/HCC 2018!

About Craig Anslow

Craig Anslow is a Lecturer in Software Engineering at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, with research interests in software visualization.
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