Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology

Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology

Alessio Gaspar (University of South Florida Polytechnic, USA), Sarah Langevin (University of South Florida Polytechnic, USA) and Naomi Boyer (University of South Florida Polytechnic, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-654-9.ch017
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Abstract

This chapter discusses a case study of the application of technology to facilitate undergraduate students’ learning of computer programming in an Information Technology department. The authors review the evolution of the didactic of introductory programming courses along with the learning barriers traditionally encountered by novice programmers. The growing interest of the computing education research community in a transition from instructivist to constructivist strategies is then illustrated by several recent approaches. The authors discuss how these have been enabled through the use of appropriate technologies in introductory and intermediate programming courses, delivered both online and face to face. They conclude by discussing how the integration of technology, and the switch to online environments, has the potential to enable authentic student-driven programming pedagogies as well as facilitate formal computing education research or action research in this field.
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Introduction

The question of whether directed teaching methodologies are more efficient than self-directed or constructivist ones is still being debated in both global and discipline-based educational communities (Kirschner, Sweller & Clark, 2006; Sweller, Kirschner & Clark, 2007). As far as computing education research is concerned, applying constructivism in programming courses is a recurrent theme as illustrated by general studies (Kolling, Quig, Patterson, Rosenberg, 2003; Wulf, 2005). More specific reference will be considered as we review specific constructivist contributions in the remainder of this chapter. In this context, our work has been focused on studying the impact of constructivism in a specific context (i.e. university-level programming courses), rather than in “education at large”, while also further developing our understanding of how technology can actually support it. The introduction provides the context of the case study presented in this chapter (e.g. courses taught, characteristics of student population) as well as an overview of the main learning barriers encountered by novice programmers. The background section discusses how these learning barriers can be addressed by a transition from instructivist programming pedagogies to constructivist ones. We then describe and discuss the impact of specific pedagogies which have been designed for and evaluated on Information Technology (IT) undergraduate students. The next section then introduces the various technologies which were used to support our constructivist approach in both face to face and online offerings. We share the lessons learned so far and underline how the transition from face to face to online delivery resonated with these technologies. The future trend section discusses how the above-mentioned technologies might end up re-shaping the nature of computing education research. We then conclude with a summary of opinions and findings.

Context of this Case Study

Our case study focuses on the application of technology to improve the teaching of computer programming courses in the Information Technology department (IT) at the University of South Florida Polytechnic (USFP). This department offers small size classes (often in the evening) for mostly non-traditional undergraduate students (older age groups, already in the workforce). The pedagogical interventions described hereafter were deployed in two programming courses. COP2510 Programming Concepts is designed as a first programming course introducing fundamental concepts to students. During the first 5 weeks, the Raptor visual flowchart interpreter (Carlisle, Wilson, Humphries, Hadfield, 2005) is used to introduce programming building blocks and concepts while developing design skills without burdening students with the syntactical complexities of a mainstream programming language. The following five weeks are devoted to reviewing the concepts already covered with Raptor and transferring them to the Java programming language. The last five weeks explore more advanced Java concepts. This pedagogy of contents has been independently explored by others (Adams, 2007) and is based on a two-steps, syntax-light then syntax-heavy, redundant, introduction to programming. Unlike other studies, we use a fundamental-first approach (Liang, 2006), which turned out to be more welcoming to our students than the original objects-first approach we evaluated for this course (Kolling et al., 2003). Enrollment was respectively 13 and 35 students for the face to face (fall 2007) and the online offerings (spring 2008).

COP3515 IT Program Design is an intermediate programming course which requires COP2510 as pre-requisite. It strengthens students’ programming skills by (1) further developing their design and troubleshooting skills and (2) teaching a new programming language which will lead to a better understanding of “under the hood” mechanics to facilitate the learning of other languages. The C programming language is used throughout the semester. The first five weeks are devoted to review fundamental programming concepts in our new language. The next five weeks focus on technical aspects (i.e. pointers, memory allocation) and the implementation of standard language constructs (e.g. strings, arrays). This course is also used to prepare students for upper-level undergraduate system-oriented courses. The last five weeks focus on recursion and data structures implementations. This further develops design skills while preparing students to their next programming course. We use the Deitel text (Deitel, 2007). Enrollment included 15 students in fall 2007 and 13 students in spring 2008.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Foreword
Michael Sherman
Acknowledgment
Carla R. Payne
Chapter 1
Maria Luisa Pérez Cavana
Taking into account the complexity and multiplicity of constructivist theories, the first part of this chapter focuses on the relationship between... Sample PDF
Closing the Circle: From Dewey to Web 2.0
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Chapter 2
Noel Fitzpatrick, Nóirín Hayes, K.C. O’Rourke
Constructivism has become the comfortable face of educational theory in recent years, due in no small part to the mainstreaming of learning... Sample PDF
Beyond Constriction and Control: Constructivism in Online Theory and Practice
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Chapter 3
Barbara de la Harpe, Fiona Peterson
There is a strong move worldwide for a constructivist theory to underpin the way teaching and learning are viewed in today’s colleges and... Sample PDF
The Theory and Practice of Teaching with Technology in Today's Colleges and Universities
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Chapter 4
Karen Swan, D.R. Garrison, Jennifer C. Richardson
This chapter presents a theoretical model of online learning, the Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework, which is grounded in John Dewey’s... Sample PDF
A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework
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Chapter 5
Jennifer Lee, Lin Lin
Based on constructivist principles, this chapter provides a new instructional design map for online learning environments. This instructional design... Sample PDF
Applying Constructivism to Online Learning: A New Instructional Design Map
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Chapter 6
Beth Rubin
Constructivist education usually involves authentic assessment, which is affected by the media used to teach. Information technology can enhance or... Sample PDF
Enhancing Authentic Assessment Through Information Technology
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Chapter 7
Xenia Coulter, Alan Mandell
The adult college student, caught between the competing demands of work and home, has recently become a valuable commodity in today’s fast-changing... Sample PDF
Nontraditional Students and Information Technology: The Siren Call of the Virtual Classroom and its Impact on Progressive Educational Ideals
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Chapter 8
Jakko van der Pol
This chapter aims to perform a thorough analysis of students’ online learning conversations. Although offering a high potential for collaborative... Sample PDF
Online Learning Conversations: Potential, Challenges and Facilitation
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Chapter 9
Laura M. Nicosia
Contemporary educators have been reassessing pedagogical frameworks and reevaluating accepted epistemologies and ontologies of learning. The age-old... Sample PDF
Virtual Constructivism: Avatars in Action
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Chapter 10
G. Andrew Page, Radwan Ali
The key idea that sets constructivism apart from other theories of cognition was launched about 60 years ago by Jean Piaget. It was the idea that... Sample PDF
The Power and Promise of Web 2.0 Tools
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Chapter 11
Shalin Hai-Jew
This chapter examines some ways information technologies (IT) are deployed in higher education courses to help learners create robust mental models.... Sample PDF
IT-Enabled Strategies for Mental Modeling in E-Learning
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Chapter 12
Roisin Donnelly
This chapter critically explores the design and implementation of a blended problem-based learning (PBL) module for academic professional... Sample PDF
Transformative Potential of Constructivist Blended Problem-Based Learning in Higher Education
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Chapter 13
James G.R. Cronin, John Paul McMahon, Michael Waldron
Reception and use of information technology by lifelong learners within a “blended” learning environment needs to be articulated within a... Sample PDF
Critical Survey of Information Technology Use in Higher Education: Blended Classrooms
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Chapter 14
M. Beatrice Ligorio, Nadia Sansone
In this chapter, the case of a blended university course will be described in detail. The main focus of this description will be on how some... Sample PDF
Structure of a Blended University Course: Applying Constructivist Principles to Blended Teaching
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Chapter 15
Hwee Ling Lim, Fay Sudweeks
As educators utilize an increasingly wide range of technologies for facilitating interaction between distant learning parties, there are concerns... Sample PDF
Constructivism and Online Collaborative Group Learning in Higher Education: A Case Study
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Chapter 16
Linda Lohr, Nicholas Eastham, David Kendrick
This case study describes how a constructivist theory of learning guided the design of distributed learning environment for a three credit hour... Sample PDF
Constructivist Strategies to Optimize Four Levels of Interaction in a Distributed Learning Environment: A Case Study
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Chapter 17
Alessio Gaspar, Sarah Langevin, Naomi Boyer
This chapter discusses a case study of the application of technology to facilitate undergraduate students’ learning of computer programming in an... Sample PDF
Facilitating Students-Driven Learning of Computer Programming with Technology
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Chapter 18
John Miller
A central component of constructivist pedagogy at the college level is the modeling and practicing of critical thinking, and since Socrates... Sample PDF
Designing Asynchronous Discussions to Teach Critical Thinking
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Chapter 19
Mark H. Schulman
The challenges for Goddard College posed by 21st Century information technologies are their incorporation into, and reflection of, the foundational... Sample PDF
"To Be in Occasional Touch": Goddard College's Progressive Principles and Distributed Learning
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Chapter 20
Carol R. Rinke, Divonna M. Stebick, Lauren Schaefer, M. Evan Gaffney
This chapter presents a critical case study on the use of information technology in a pre-service teacher education program. The authors integrated... Sample PDF
Using Blogs to Foster Inquiry, Collaboration, and Feedback in Pre-Service Teacher Education
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Chapter 21
Michal Zellermayer, Nili Mor, Ida Heilweil
This chapter describes the learning environment that the authors created for veteran teachers, graduate students in Teaching and Learning who are... Sample PDF
The Intersection of Theory, Tools and Tasks in a Postgraduate Learning Environment
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About the Contributors