Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Usability and Pedagogical Assessment of an Algorithm Learning Tool: A Case Study for an Introductory Programming Course for High School

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Usability and Pedagogical Assessment of an Algorithm Learning Tool: A Case Study for an Introductory Programming Course for High School

Article excerpt


Research on K-12 computer science education has recently gained focus as computer science has become a regular part of the curriculum in several secondary schools and is now considered essential as any of the traditional sciences. Efforts to promote such studies are being done by groups such as the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA, 2005). In a curriculum report of ACM, it was suggested that a good foundation on algorithms and their implementation is necessary in order to gain programming skills and to learn more advanced computer science concepts (ACM, 2001). And in a study that proposed a classification of research works on computer science education, one category is on tools that assist teaching, learning, and assessing programming skills (Sheard, Simon, Hamilton, & Lonnberg, 2009).

In relation to these, the study presented in this article aims to facilitate learning of algorithms among the students of an introductory computer science course through an algorithm learning tool. The first objective is to determine if the tool has an effect on the learning performance of the students. Another objective is to determine whether a visualization tool with more input options and control has more effects on learning compared to one which offers less input and control options. Along with these goals is the need to determine the scales and items for evaluating an algorithm learning tool in terms of its usability design and pedagogical effectiveness that is appropriate for novice learners. Hence, an evaluation questionnaire for the learning tool was designed and was conducted among the participants. This study would also like to find out if there is a relationship between the design properties incorporated in the algorithm learning tool and the performance of the students in the written tests in algorithms. This is in line with the plan to build a model that incorporates design properties of an algorithm learning tool with visualization and learning performance.

The next section of this paper presents related studies, particularly, on Algorithm Visualization. The third section describes the algorithm learning tool. The fourth and fifth sections present the research design and the results and discussions, respectively. These are followed by the sections on conclusion and future and suggested research plans.

Related Work

The learning tool presented in this paper uses the concept of Algorithm Visualization or AV, which is a technology that incorporates graphics and animation of algorithms. The algorithm process is simulated through graphical images that can be controlled by the user (Shaffer et al., 2010). AV is considered to be a subclass of software visualization which includes the development and evaluation of methods for representing software graphically, its structure, execution, and evolution (Diehl, 2007).

There is a widespread belief that Algorithm Visualization helps improve computer science education, according to previous surveys (Naps et al, 2002). This is related to the primary objective of AV, which is to aid computer science students to understand algorithms better (Hundhausen, Douglas, & Stasko, 2002). Studies have shown that visualizations and animations of algorithms and data structures are incorporated in the curriculum of introductory computer science as these are considered fundamental topics in CS education (Shaffer et al., 2010).

Overview of History of AV

Depiction of algorithms using graphical illustrations began in the 1960s but it was the Sorting out Sorting video created by Ron Baecker that commenced research in AV technology (Baecker & Price, 1998; Stasko, Hundhausen, Fincher, & Petre, 2004). A number of AV tools were developed since then and were unofficially classified as either pre-Java or post-Java AVs (Shaffer, et al., 2010). Pre-Java AVs came as packages with pre-generated visualizations. …

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