EarSketch Receives NCWIT Engagement Excellence Award

Students use the EarSketch program

By Malrey Head Atlanta, GA

Two Georgia Tech researchers have received the 2017 National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Engagement Excellence Award for their EarSketch program.

This award recognizes faculty who use certain teaching practices in their introductory computer science classrooms known to better engage students, especially young women and underrepresented groups.

Jason Freeman, a professor in the School of Music in the College of Design, co-directs EarSketch with Brian Magerko, an associate professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication in the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts.

The program is designed to teach computer literacy to students in grades K-12 and to engage girls and minorities in computing. It teaches them code through music. They learn core computational concepts and the Python and JavaScript languages.

According to the NCWIT press release, “recipients of the EngageCSEdu Engagement Excellence Awards demonstrate unique, refreshing approaches in developing course materials that foster an inclusive, interactive classroom environment and encourage confidence in students to persist.”

Besides Freeman and Magerko, the award recognizes several others who helped develop the EarSketch curriculum. Greg Hendler, Lea Ikkache, and Brandon Westergaard were master’s students in music technology who graduated last year. Anna Xambó is a post doc in the School of Music and Doug Edwards is a research scientist at CEISMC in the College of Sciences.

Freeman and the EarSketch team.
Some of the EarSketch team are, from left, Doug Edwards, Sabrina Grossman, Lea Ikkache, Takumi Ogata, and Jason Freeman.

The award comes with $5,000, which Freeman said would be given to the Women in Music Technology group to continue promoting inclusion and diversity in the School of Music.

Since 2011 when EarSketch was created it has also received recognition from the White House and funding from the National Science Foundation, the Arthur Blank Family Foundation, and Google. It also is now used in all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

When asked about the success of the program Freeman said, “We had no idea that EarSketch would be this successful, and it’s incredibly gratifying to see that so many others share our vision of using music to engage students in computing.”

Freeman, also a researcher in the School’s Center for Music Technology, and his team have formed partnerships with several metro Atlanta school districts for teachers to use the program, which is free online, in their classes.

The program this past summer was profiled in the Georgia Tech Alumni magazine. Freeman told the magazine: “What we’ve found through our research with students in metro Atlanta is that this is a really exciting way for students to learn about coding and that it has particularly strong impacts on female students.”

He said, “This is important given the long-standing problems we’ve seen with gender balance in the tech industry and in computer science education.”