O'Really?

November 3, 2022

Join us to discuss novice use of Java on Monday 7th November at 2pm GMT

Java is widely used as a teaching language in Universities around the world, but what wider problems does it present for novice programmers? Join us to discuss via a paper published in TOCE by Neil Brown, Pierre Weill-Tessier, Maksymilian Sekula, Alexandra-Lucia Costache and Michael Kölling. [1] From the abstract:

Objectives: Java is a popular programming language for use in computing education, but it is difficult to get a wide picture of the issues that it presents for novices, and most studies look only at the types or frequency of errors. In this observational study we aim to learn how novices use different features of the Java language. Participants: Users of the BlueJ development environment have been invited to opt-in to anonymously record their activity data for the past eight years. This dataset is called Blackbox, which was used as the basis for this study. BlueJ users are mostly novice programmers, predominantly male, with a median age of 16. Our data subset featured approximately 225,000 participants from around the world. Study Methods: We performed a secondary data analysis that used data from the Blackbox dataset. We examined over 320,000 Java projects collected over the course of eight years, and used source code analysis to investigate the prevalence of various specifically-selected Java programming usage patterns. As this was an observational study without specific hypotheses, we did not use significance tests; instead we present the results themselves with commentary, having applied seasonal trend decomposition to the data. Findings: We found many long-term trends in the data over the course of the eight years, most of which were monotonic. There was a notable reduction in the use of the main method (common in Java but unnecessary in BlueJ), and a general reduction in the complexity of the projects. We find that there are only a small number of frequently used types: int, String, double and boolean, but also a wide range of other infrequently used types. Conclusions: We find that programming usage patterns gradually change over a long period of time (a period where the Java language was not seeing major changes), once seasonal patterns are accounted for. Any changes are likely driven by instructors and the changing demographics of programming novices. The novices use a relatively restricted subset of Java, which implies that designers of languages specifically targeted at novices can satisfy their needs with a smaller set of language constructs and features. We provide detailed recommendations for the designers of educational programming languages and supporting development tools.

All welcome, as usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details at sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us

References

  1. Neil C. C. Brown, Pierre Weill-Tessier, Maksymilian Sekula, Alexandra-Lucia Costache and Michael Kölling (2022) Novice use of the Java programming language ACM Transactions on Computing Education DOI:10.1145/3551393

April 4, 2022

Join us to discuss spatial skills in engineering on Monday 9th May at 2pm BST

CC BY-SA licensed image of a Rubik’s cube via by Booyabazooka Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/He9

Spatial skills can be beneficial in engineering and computing, but what are they and why are they useful? Join us to discuss this via a paper on spatial skills training by Jack Parkinson and friends at the University of Glasgow. Here is the abstract:

We have been training spatial skills for Computing Science students over several years with positive results, both in terms of the students’ spatial skills and their CS outcomes. The delivery and structure of the training has been modified over time and carried out at several institutions, resulting in variations across each intervention. This article describes six distinct case studies of training deliveries, highlighting the main challenges faced and some important takeaways. Our goal is to provide useful guidance based on our varied experience for any practitioner considering the adoption of spatial skills training for their students.

see [1]

All welcome. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us. Thanks to Steven Bradley for suggesting the paper

References

  1. Jack Parkinson, Ryan Bockmon, Quintin Cutts, Michael Liut, Andrew Petersen and Sheryl Sorby (2021) Practice report: six studies of spatial skills training in introductory computer science, ACM Inroads Volume 12, issue 4, pp 18–29 DOI: 10.1145/3494574

September 17, 2020

Join us to discuss learning git on Monday 5th October at 2pm

The use of git is widespread in software engineering, however many novices struggle to get to grips with its complex distributed information model, challenging command line syntax and leaky abstractions. To investigate these pitfalls, we’ll be talking about a paper published by Santiago Perez De Rosso and Daniel Jackson on Purposes, Concepts, Misfits, and a Redesign of Git at OOPSLA. [1] From the abstract:

Git is a widely used version control system that is powerful but complicated. Its complexity may not be an inevitable consequence of its power but rather evidence of flaws in its design. To explore this hypothesis, we analysed the design of Git using a theory that identifies concepts, purposes, and misfits. Some well-known difficulties with Git are described, and explained as misfits in which underlying concepts fail to meet their intended purpose. Based on this analysis, we designed a reworking of Git (called Gitless) that attempts to remedy these flaws.

To correlate misfits with issues reported by users, we conducted a study of Stack Overflow questions. And to determine whether users experienced fewer complications using Gitless in place of Git, we conducted a small user study. Results suggest our approach can be profitable in identifying, analysing, and fixing design problems.

Details of the zoom meeting have been posted on our slack workspace, see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for further information. Thanks to Juha Sorva at Aalto University for recommending this paper. The Git logo by Jason Long at git-scm.com/downloads/logos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Journal club dates for your diary

We’ll be meeting on the first Monday of every month throughout autumn, so if you’d like to join us next month or a subsequent month, add these journal club dates to your diary:

  • Monday 5th October at 2pm
  • Monday 2nd November at 2pm
  • Monday 7th December at 2pm

References

  1. Santiago Perez De Rosso and Daniel Jackson (2016) Purposes, Concepts, Misfits, and a Redesign of Git in Proceedings of the 2016 ACM SIGPLAN International Conference on Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications, (OOPSLA), pages 292–310 DOI: 10.1145/2983990.2984018

September 3, 2020

Join us to discuss using theory in Computing Education Research, 7th September at 11am

Filed under: sigcse — Duncan Hull @ 12:56 pm
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cc-licensed image from the thenounproject.com/term/theory/2332503/

Join us on Monday 7th September to discuss using theory in Computing Education Research at 11am. We’ll be talking about a paper [1] by Greg L. Nelson and Amy Ko at the University of Washington:

A primary goal of computing education research is to discover designs that produce better learning of computing. In this pursuit, we have increasingly drawn upon theories from learning science and education research, recognising the potential benefits of optimising our search for better designs by leveraging the predictions of general theories of learning. In this paper, we contribute an argument that theory can also inhibit our community’s search for better designs. We present three inhibitions: 1) our desire to both advance explanatory theory and advance design splits our attention, which prevents us from excelling at both; 2) our emphasis on applying and refining general theories of learning is done at the expense of domain-specific theories of computer science knowledge, and 3) our use of theory as a critical lens in peer review prevents the publication of designs that may accelerate design progress. We present several recommendations for how to improve our use of theory, viewing it as just one of many sources of design insight in pursuit of improving learning of computing.

Details of the zoom meeting will be posted on our slack workspace at uk-acm-sigsce.slack.com. If you don’t have access to the workspace, send me (Duncan Hull) an email to request an invite to join the workspace.

References

  1. Greg L. Nelson and Andrew Ko (2018) On Use of Theory in Computing Education Research in ICER ’18: Proceedings of the 2018 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research, August 2018 Pages 31–39 DOI:10.1145/3230977.3230992

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