Learning by building: A visual modelling language for psychology students

Mulholland, Paul and Watt, Stuart (2000). Learning by building: A visual modelling language for psychology students. Journal of Visual Languages and Computing, 11(5) pp. 481–504.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1006/jvlc.2000.0178


Cognitive modelling involves building computational models of psychological theories in order to learn more about them, and is a major research area allied to psychology and artificial intelligence. The main problem is that few psychology students have previous programming experience. The course lecturer can avoid the problem by presenting the area only in general terms. This leaves the process of building and testing models, which is central to the methodology, an unknown. Alternatively, students can be introduced to one of the existing cognitive modelling languages, though this can easily be overwhelming, hindering rather than helping their understanding. Our solution was to design and build a programming language for the intended population. The result is Hank, a visual cognitive modelling language for the psychologist. Our informal analyses have investigated the effectiveness of Hank in its intended context of use, both as a paper and pencil exercise for individuals, and as a computer based project to be carried out in groups. The findings largely support the Hank design decisions, and illuminate many of the challenges inherent in designing a programming language for an educational purpose.

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