by Melinda Hudson
At the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, coding is the new in thing for high-school students. Currently in its second year, Coding Club is held in the evenings.
A small group of staff at the school coordinates with students attending the University of Texas at Austin to carry out the 12-week curriculum. In both beginner and advanced classes, the high-school students learn to make programs — with the beginners using a new and exciting programming language known as Quorum.
Why did we choose Quorum? With funding from the National Science Foundation, the Quorum language was developed with the visually impaired community in mind. Considering usability and human factor concerns, Quorum is the first “evidence-based” language. With most users listening to a screen reader or using a braille display to interpret the computer’s output, this programming language was designed to be accessible for both readability as well as “hearability.” In practice, this has alleviated much of the struggle associated with learning a new programming language. The benefits offered by this language strive to help all new users gain a better understanding of computer programming. Although new, Quorum has already begun to take hold. For more information on the language, visit https://quorumlanguage.com/.
In Coding Club at TSBVI, students apply the programming skills they acquire to create programs such as audio games, and, by the end of the course, bring their programming to life through the use of LEGO Mindstorms.
EPIQ, which stands for “Experience Programming in Quorum,” is the annual conference where educators from around the world get together and get trained on the Quorum language so that they can go back to their schools and teach their students — regardless of your experience with computer programming. The inventor of the language, Andreas Stefik, and his team from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas also attend each year to communicate with educators about their experience in teaching with Quorum. This feedback is essential to the development of both the language itself as well as course outlines, which are available free on the Quorum website. The course outlines on the website are structured so that teachers may use them as a guide in teaching various topics involving the programming language.
At EPIQ, teachers of the visually impaired and others who work with visually impaired students received training on how to teach Quorum as well as share discussions on our individual experiences. This unique curriculum, focusing on K-12 students with blindness or visual impairments, provides this community with a realistic path forward in computer science education.
For information on EPIQ, visit https://www.quorumlanguage.com/epiq.php. If you have questions or comments, contact Melinda Hudson at [email protected].