Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

The Effect of Learning Objects on a C++ Programming Lesson

Academic journal article Communications of the IIMA

The Effect of Learning Objects on a C++ Programming Lesson

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Learning to program is difficult for many students. Dropout and failure rates in introductory programming at undergraduate courses are evidence to the fact that learning to program is a difficult task (Wiedenbeck & Kain, 2004). It can be said that algorithmic thinking is complex: more advanced concepts are layered on top of others, learned previously (Jenkins, 2002; Machanick, 2005)

Even though the subject of learning to program has been widely studied for the last 25 years, within several disciplines and from different approaches (psychological/cognitive, sociological, and software tools, among others) there is not yet a definite solution and understanding to the problem.

In the line of software tools to aid learning, learning objects (LOs) are receiving a lot of world wide attention. LOs are generally understood as digital learning resources that can be shared and accessed via Internet and used in multiple contexts (Wiley, 2000). The basic premise of LOs is to offer scalable and individually adaptive instruction, which can even be generated on the fly according to the learner needs by intelligent semantic technologies (Gibbons, Nelson & Richards, 2000). And so, the adoption of LO technology has seen a significant increment within the distance learning community. Important efforts are made to establish standards (ISO, 2003), quality measures (Archambault, 2003), and efficient repositories. Substantial amounts of human and financial resources are being channeled to LOs related projects (CISCO, 2000).

However, the LO approach is not without criticism. For example, Jaakkola (2004, p.4), states: When considering the effect of learning objects on students' learning performance, it is important to understand that it is impossible, and irrelevant, to separate the learner and the learning content to be learned from the context in which learning occurs.

More so, research literature focused on the pedagogical effectiveness of LOs is limited (Moisey, 2003). There is little empirical evidence of the effect of LOs on academic achievement of students (Jaakkola, 2004; Kujansuu, 2006).

The purpose of this exploratory study is to statistically measure the effects of LOs in a first year C++ programming lesson, and find if students exposed to this technology (in a limited time frame) show better academic performance.

METHODOLOGY

In this study, we will describe an exploratory study that consisted of comparing the performance of two first year C++ undergraduate programming groups of students, under two different conditions:

1) Using traditional, teacher-led instruction, and

2) Using learning objects.

The study was conducted in Autonomous University of Aguascalientes (UAA), Mexico.

The content was focused on the subject of file handling in C++. This subject was selected because it coincided with both the lecture plan and the thematic progress of the course. Thirty five first year computer science students participated in the study. Two groups were created: one using traditional methods (TRADG), and the other using LOs (LOG).

Before the formation of the groups, students with previous programming experience (Byrne, 2001; Holden & Weeden, 2005; Fauxx, 2006) were identified and later randomly distributed within the two groups.

The study was conducted in the second half of the semester, so it was assumed that the participants already knew the basic programming concepts and structures (sequence, decisions, loops, variables) of the C++ language.

Structure of the Teaching Sessions

Each group was given a two hour session with the following structure:

* A lecture about the subject of file handling in C++ (reading and writing);

* Free, individual study/use of corresponding learning materials; and

* Solution of a small test

To control the teaching style variable, the same teacher conducted both sessions. …

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