CEC Theses and Dissertations

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Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science (CISD)

Department

College of Engineering and Computing

Advisor

Maxine S. Cohen

Committee Member

Raymond Pettit

Committee Member

Michael J. Laszlo

Abstract

The primary task of learning to program in introductory computer science courses (CS1) cognitively overloads novices and must be better supported. Several recent studies have attempted to address this problem by understanding the role of metacognitive awareness in novices learning programming. These studies have focused on teaching metacognitive awareness to students by helping them understand the six stages of learning so students can know where they are in the problem-solving process, but these approaches are not scalable. One way to address scalability is to implement features in an automated assessment tool (AAT) that build metacognitive awareness in novice programmers. Currently, AATs that provide feedback messages to students can be said to implement the fifth and sixth learning stages integral to metacognitive awareness: implement solution (compilation) and evaluate implemented solution (test cases). The computer science education (CSed) community is actively engaged in research on the efficacy of compile error messages (CEMs) and how best to enhance them to maximize student learning and it is currently heavily disputed whether or not enhanced compile error messages (ECEMs) in AATs actually improve student learning. The discussion on the effectiveness of ECEMs in AATs remains focused on only one learning stage critical to metacognitive awareness in novices: implement solution. This research carries out an ethnomethodologically-informed study of CS1 students via think-aloud studies and interviews in order to propose a framework for designing an AAT that builds metacognitive awareness by supporting novices through all six stages of learning. The results of this study provide two important contributions. The first is the confirmation that ECEMs that are designed from a human-factors approach are more helpful for students than standard compiler error messages. The second important contribution is that the results from the observations and post-assessment interviews revealed the difficulties novice programmers often face to developing metacognitive awareness when using an AAT. Understanding these barriers revealed concrete ways to help novice programmers through all six stages of the problem-solving process. This was presented above as a framework of features, which when implemented properly, provides a scalable way to implicitly produce metacognitive awareness in novice programmers.

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