Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

An Exploration of How a Technology-Facilitated Part-Complete Solution Method Supports the Learning of Computer Programming

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

An Exploration of How a Technology-Facilitated Part-Complete Solution Method Supports the Learning of Computer Programming

Article excerpt

Introduction

Learning to write computer programs is not easy (e.g., du Boulay, 1986; Scholtz & Wiedenbeck, 1992) and this is reflected in the low levels of achievement experienced by many students in first programming courses. For example, Perkins, Schwartz & Simmons (1988, p.155) state that: "Students with a semester or more of instruction often display remarkable naivete about the language that they have been studying and often prove unable to manage dismayingly simple programming problems". Also, King, Feltham & Nucifora (1994, p.18) state that: "Even after two years of study, many students had only a rudimentary understanding of programming".

Some research has taken place into the use of part-complete solutions as a way of reducing the cognitive load on students in order to help them learn programming more effectively (e.g., van Merrienboer, 1990; van Merrienboer & De Croock, 1992). These studies demonstrated the potential of such a part-complete solution method (PCSM), but its success was never realised due to the absence of suitable electronic tools to support the process.

A software tool named CORT (Code Restructuring Tool) has been built by the author to support this completion method and this paper reports on the findings from a qualitative research study concerning how the use of the PCSM and CORT helped support student learning.

CORT: A Tool to Support the PCSM

CORT has been described in other papers (e.g., Garner, 2003, 2005). The interface comprises two windows as shown in Figure 1. The right-hand window contains the part-complete solution to a given programming problem, and the left-hand window contains possible lines of code that can be used to complete the program. A CORT problem may have more lines in the left-hand window than are necessary, some lines acting as distracters to force students to think more carefully about the lines to choose.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Lines can be moved between the windows by clicking on the large arrows on the toolbar. Other buttons on the toolbar can be used to rearrange lines in the right-hand window. When a student wishes to test the code, the contents of the right-hand window are copied to the windows clipboard and then pasted into a program development environment which, in this example, is Visual BASIC. The program can then be executed and, if necessary, amended back in the CORT program.

The set of possible lines of code that is given to a learner to be used in the completion of a part-complete program can be varied. This can be done by providing one of the following methods:

Method 1. All of the lines of code that are missing from the program are provided as options.

Method 2. All of the lines of code that are missing from the program, together with some extra lines of code that are not needed to complete the program, are provided. These extra lines act as "distracters".

Method 3. Some of the lines of code that are missing from the program might be provided, however some other missing lines must be keyed-in by the learner.

The important variable that affects which of the above methods is used for a given problem is the degree of difficulty of that problem. For example, if a problem was relatively simple then method 2 might be used, whereas method 1 might be used with a more difficult problem.

Research Design

An inquiry took place to investigate the ways in which the part-complete solution method (PCSM) within the CORT system supported the learning process.

Observation and participation by the researcher were used as a major method of collecting data and an action research methodology was utilised for the study. A quasi-experimental design framework was used within the action research methodology. The design was deemed to be quasi-experimental as it was not possible to achieve "randomisation" of exposures which is essential if true experimentation is to take place (Cohen & Manion, 1994). …

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