Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Digital Competition Game to Improve Programming Skills

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Digital Competition Game to Improve Programming Skills

Article excerpt

Introduction

Gaming, as a learning and skills improvement mechanism, is a natural process not just for humans but also for many other animal species (Huizinga, 1955). From an educational perspective, games have demonstrated to be an auxiliary tool in the construction of students' systematic knowledge (Lewandowski & Soares, 2008). Systematization through digital games may allow for better students companionship, verifying frequent errors and presenting them multimedia resources in a different and more appealing way compared to traditional classrooms.

A wide variety of studies points out the relevance of these resources to fulfill different learning goals like verbal, mathematical, logic, visual and motor-sensorial, as well as problem solving skills (Klopfer & Yoon, 2005). But, how is that possible? How can digital games help cognitive processes? Piaget (1983) analyzes the importance of the relationship between subject and object (in this case the game), and how object reactions to subject actions allow the latter to build mental models which, through interaction processes, become significant and constitute an important part in learning.

Several works during the last two decades present a general vision about the educational use of digital games, describing its convenience in several areas of knowledge (Cavallari et al., 1992; Randel et al., 1992; Downes, 1999; Duplantis et al., 2002; Rosas et al., 2003; Mitchell & Savill-Smith, 2004; Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2006; Ke & Grabowski, 2007; Chuang & Cheng, 2009; Kim & Chang, 2010). In the particular case of computer sciences, as it is noted by Becker (2001), the use of educational software is not prominent compared to other disciplines, but new developments have been seen in recent years. Some examples of the application of digital games in different knowledge domains within computer sciences such as software engineering and data structures can now be found in several works (Moser, 1997; Gorriz & Medina 2000; Gander, 2000; Baker et al., 2005; Lawrence, 2004; Papastergiou, 2009; Zapata, 2009).

The work presented on this paper focuses specifically on the improvement of basic programming skills, without emphasis on any particular programming language; i.e., it is related to the algorithms design rather than the final coding. This issue is of great interest because, at least in Colombia, a computer programming class is not mandatory at the high school level, but it is a compulsory part of the curriculum for most engineering related degrees and obviously for technical degrees in computer related fields.

Most teachers in the area would agree that teaching programming logic is challenging because it requires students not only to know how basic instructions work but, more importantly, how to use them in an adequate and creative way to solve a specific problem. For example, if in a classroom with 100 students a teacher proposes a simple exercise like: "Design an algorithm to read three numeric values and determine the largest one"; it would be quite possible for the teacher to find within the group at least 10 different solutions which would not just differ from each other in an aesthetic way (the use of more or less instructions), but also in, for example, their efficiency regarding the use of resources (processor and memory), which is of great significance from a computational standpoint.

Considering this panorama, an educational digital game called 'ProBot' was designed and developed in our research group with the aim of helping students to reinforce their knowledge on three concepts: sequencing, defined iteration, and nesting. According to Garza (2011), sequencing and iteration are two of the three fundamental elements of computers structured programming (the other one is selection, which is not covered in the game). Sequencing refers to the logical succession provided by the instructions in the algorithm. …

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