CCE Theses and Dissertations

Teaching Object-Oriented Programming with Modeling Tools: Effects on Cognitive Load

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Timothy Ellis

Committee Member

Steven R. Terrell

Committee Member

Getrude W. Abramson


In order to assist learners with object-oriented programming and design principles, many types of visual modeling tools have been developed to demonstrate otherwise abstract concepts. Although businesses and educational institutions alike have embraced the most mature of these tools, the Unified Modeling Language (UML) notation, it has not been demonstrated that such graphical aids can equally facilitate learning and achievement by all individuals regardless of their prior experience with procedural programming languages. Other visual modeling aids that similarly integrate textual explanations with graphical models have been demonstrated in other studies to increase the cognitive load of learners and to negatively impact the effectiveness of the instruction when used with learners who possess high prior experience in a related area. The goal of this research was to determine the appropriateness of the use of UML modeling tools with students who possess high prior experience in a conceptually different area of programming and design. Specifically, this research examined the effects that teaching object-oriented programming and design with visual UML object modeling tools had on the cognitive load and achievement of experienced procedural programmer’s enrolled in a C++ programming class. Data for this study were collected from four sections of the Introduction to C++ classes at Tulsa Community College. Data were collected on the participants during the experimental semester by using a student programming self-efficacy survey and a series of four object-oriented programming and design achievement tests. On each test, students were asked to subjectively evaluate their cognitive load for the material covered by each question.

The data were analyzed for any significant interactions among the student's prior experience with procedural languages, their exposure to UML, their cognitive load, and achievement. It was expected that the results would show a significant negative relationship between the student's prior experience and their level of achievement when exposed to UML content in the classroom. However, due to multiple violations of tile assumptions of the statistical tests outlined in this study, the results of this study could only be descriptively analyzed. The descriptive analysis revealed only small differences in the levels of achievement and cognitive load among the study's population.

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