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Call for papers

Journal of Visual Languages and Sentient Systems: Special Issue on Blocks Programming

Scope of the Issue

In blocks programming languages, visual puzzle pieces or tiles that represent syntax tree nodes can be snapped together to form programs. These languages, which include Scratch, Alice, Blockly, App Inventor, Snap!, Pencil Code, Greenfoot, AgentSheets/AgentCubes, Tiled Grace, and many others, have become an increasingly popular way to introduce programming and computational thinking to people of all ages and backgrounds. They are commonly used in both traditional and online courses, as well as informal learning activities like's Hour of Code.

The focus of this special issue is the design, study, and pedagogy of blocks programming languages and environments. We solicit papers presenting previously unpublished work in these areas. Topics include, but are not limited to:

Where possible and appropriate, claims should be backed up by empirical evidence.

Submission Instructions

All papers should be submitted as a PDF file in two-column format following the formatting instructions at Abstracts and papers should be submitted online via EasyChair at, following these steps:
  1. Log in with your EasyChair username and password (first sign up for an account if you don't already have one).
  2. If you are given a choice of role, choose the author role.
  3. Click on the New Submission tab.
  4. Select the track VLSS Special Issue on Blocks Programming.

Note that this special issue is not associated with the 2016 Distributed Multimedia Systems conference, but the same EasyChair account is currently being used for all VLSS activities.

All submitted papers will be carefully evaluated by at least two reviewers based on originality, significance, technical soundness, and clarity of expression. Final paper selections will be made by a committee that includes the guest editor and the reviewers.

Any questions about potential papers and the submission process should be emailed to the guest editor at

Important Dates

Guest Editor

Franklyn Turbak, Associate Professor of Computer Science, Wellesley College (

Turbak's interests include the design, analysis, and implementation of expressive programming languages, and visual representations of programs and computational processes. His current research focuses on blocks programming languages. At Wellesley, he leads the TinkerBlocks research group, whose goal is to help democratize computing by creating blocks programming languages that are more expressive and easier to use. Most of this group's work involves improving MIT App Inventor, for which Turbak is a member of the core development team. Turbak led the organization of the 2015 IEEE Blocks and Beyond Workshop and was lead PI on the NSF-funded Computational Thinking through Mobile Computing project, which explored using App Inventor to teach fundamental computing concepts.

About the Journal of Visual Languages and Sentient Systems

The Journal of Visual Languages and Sentient Systems (VLSS) was formed in 2015 as an open access journal for researchers, practitioners, and developers to exchange ideas and research results in the areas of visual languages and sentient multimedia systems.

Visual languages leverage high-density displays, touch-sensitive surfaces, and vision-processing systems to improve human/computer interaction through mechanisms like iconic representations and sketch and gesture recognition. The touch-based iconic interfaces that are now ubiquitous in smartphones and other devices are founded on decades of visual language research that is becoming ever more relevant with advances in hardware and software. Combining aspects of art, engineering, and science, visual computing involves the design and engineering of visual interactions and the analysis of these interactions in terms of semantics, efficiency, aesthetics, pleasure, emotion, engagement, immersion, collaboration, and culture.

Sentient systems are distributed systems capable of actively interacting with the environment by gathering, processing, interpreting, storing and retrieving multimedia information originated from sensors, robots, actuators, websites and other information sources. In order for sentient systems to function efficiently and effectively, visual languages play an important role.

VLSS publishes research papers, state-of-the-art surveys, review articles, in the areas of visual languages, sentient multimedia systems, distributed multimedia systems, sensor networks, multimedia interfaces, visual communication, multi-media communications, cognitive aspects of sensor-based systems, and parallel/distributed/neural computing & representations for multimedia information processing.

VLSS is available not only online, but also in hardcopy published annually as part of the proceedings of the annual International Conference of Distributed Multimedia Systems (DMS).