Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Prior Experience and New IT Students

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Prior Experience and New IT Students

Article excerpt


Like most computing departments, the Information Technology (IT) Department of the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences (GCCIS) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) offers introductory courses in four subject areas as part of the core requirements for a BS in IT. These are intended to give students a broad understanding of these IT areas.

The core subject areas fall into four threads: programming and application development, web and multimedia development, hardware and networking, and user-centered design and development. The first of these is the most complex thread and the programming courses are prerequisite to courses in other threads.

When students are entering the program, various criteria are used to place students into courses. The advisor asks questions and looks at student records in an attempt to place students in courses where they will be successful. This paper is part of an ongoing study which is trying to determine criteria that will predict success in the IT program and design courses to fit certain student profiles. This study is measuring the correlation between specific prior experience criteria and student performance as measured by the course grade received upon completion of certain courses. The grade is based on the typical four point scale. The assumption is that more experience will allow students to obtain higher grades.

Since much of the information received by the advisors comes from the students themselves, the interest was in the students' perception of their skill levels. For this reason a survey was developed to investigate students' perceptions of their past experience. A 2002 survey was originally used to investigate experience level and comfort level with computers from the students' perspective. This was given to all students entering the first programming course. The survey was narrowed to a target population of new IT majors entering as freshman. The response rate was nearly 100%. In 2003 and 2004, these survey questions were included as part of an enlarged survey that added additional questions concerning student learning styles. This survey is sent to all incoming IT freshman in the summer before their entrance into RIT. In 2003, Eighty-eight percent (88%) responded and allowed us to use their data as part of the study. Processing is not complete on the 2004 data. The learning style results are not part of this particular paper.

In 2003 and 2004, the authors studied the introductory programming sequence using data from 2002 to determine the impact of prior programming experience on that sequence (Holden & Weeden, 2003, 2004). Figure 1 shows an illustration of this sequence. It was found that prior programming experience does have an impact on student performance in the first course in the programming sequence; however it does not have a significant impact on student performance in subsequent courses. By the end of the sequence, students seem to have equivalent performance. Any level of programming experience improves performance in the first course, and students with prior experience are more likely to complete the faster three-course sequence versus the fourcourse alternate sequence.

The hurdle in learning programming appears to be learning the basic concepts such as sequence, iteration, and decision which are covered in the first course. Once these are learned, students are able to master the more advanced concepts of later courses. The study further found that students' indication of "comfort level" with computers is not an indication future performance in programming courses. In addition, the programming language used in the prior experience does not seem to indicate future success over other languages. This would indicate that students' perception of their comfort level with computers was not an indicator of future performance, nor was a particular language used in the past and these questions are of little value in determining success or failure. …

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