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Promoting Programming Learning: Engagement, Automatic Assessment with Immediate Feedback in Visualizations

Mikko-Jussi Laakso, Promoting Programming Learning: Engagement, Automatic Assessment with Immediate Feedback in Visualizations. TUCS Dissertations 131. Turku Centre for Computer Science, 2010.


The skill of programming is a key asset for every computer science student. Many studies have shown that this is a hard skill to learn and the outcomes of programming courses have often been substandard. Thus, a range of methods and tools have been developed to assist students’ learning processes. One of the biggest fields in computer science education is the use of visualizations as a learning aid and many visualization based tools have been developed to aid the learning process during last few decades.

Studies conducted in this thesis focus on two different visualizationbased tools TRAKLA2 and ViLLE. This thesis includes results from multiple empirical studies about what kind of effects the introduction and usage of these tools have on students’ opinions and performance, and what kind of implications there are from a teacher’s point of view.

The results from studies in this thesis show that students preferred to do web-based exercises, and felt that those exercises contributed to their learning. The usage of the tool motivated students to work harder during their course, which was shown in overall course performance and drop-out statistics.

We have also shown that visualization-based tools can be used to enhance the learning process, and one of the key factors is the higher and active level of engagement (see. Engagement Taxonomy by Naps et al., 2002). The automatic grading accompanied with immediate feedback helps students to overcome obstacles during the learning process, and to grasp the key element in the learning task.

These kinds of tools can help us to cope with the fact that many programming courses are overcrowded with limited teaching resources. These tools allows us to tackle this problem by utilizing automatic assessment in exercises that are most suitable to be done in the web (like tracing and simulation) since its supports students’ independent learning regardless of time and place.

In summary, we can use our course’s resources more efficiently to increase the quality of the learning experience of the students and the teaching experience of the teacher, and even increase performance of the students.

There are also methodological results from this thesis which contribute to developing insight into the conduct of empirical evaluations of new tools or techniques. When we evaluate a new tool, especially one accompanied with visualization, we need to give a proper introduction to it and to the graphical notation used by tool. The standard procedure should also include capturing the screen with audio to confirm that the participants of the experiment are doing what they are supposed to do. By taken such measures in the study of the learning impact of visualization support for learning, we can avoid drawing false conclusion from our experiments.

As computer science educators, we face two important challenges. Firstly, we need to start to deliver the message in our own institution and all over the world about the new – scientifically proven – innovations in teaching like TRAKLA2 and ViLLE. Secondly, we have the relevant experience of conducting teaching related experiment, and thus we can support our colleagues to learn essential know-how of the research based improvement of their teaching. This change can transform academic teaching into publications and by utilizing this approach we can significantly increase the adoption of the new tools and techniques, and overall increase the knowledge of best-practices.

In future, we need to combine our forces and tackle these universal and common problems together by creating multi-national and multiinstitutional research projects. We need to create a community and a platform in which we can share these best practices and at the same time conduct multi-national research projects easily.


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BibTeX entry:

  title = {Promoting Programming Learning: Engagement, Automatic Assessment with Immediate Feedback in Visualizations},
  author = {Laakso, Mikko-Jussi},
  number = {131},
  series = {TUCS Dissertations},
  school = {Turku Centre for Computer Science},
  year = {2010},
  ISBN = {978-952-12-2486-7},

Belongs to TUCS Research Unit(s): Learning and Reasoning Lab

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