Summer of Code: Assisting Distance-Learning Students with Open-Ended Programming Tasks

Smith, Neil; Richards, Mike and Cabrero, Daniel G. (2018). Summer of Code: Assisting Distance-Learning Students with Open-Ended Programming Tasks. In: ITiCSE 2018: Proceedings of the 23rd Annual ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, ACM, New York, pp. 224–229.



A significant difficulty in teaching programming lies in the transition from novice to intermediate programmer, characterised by the assimilation and use of schemas of standard programming approaches. A significant factor assisting this transition is practice with tasks which develop this schema use. We describe the Summer of Code, a two-week activity for part-time, distance-learning students which gave them some additional programming practice. We analysed their submissions, forum postings, and results of a terminal survey. We found learners were keen to share and discuss their solutions and persevered with individual problems and the challenge overall. 93% respondents rated the activity 3 or better on a 5-point Likert scale (n=58). However, a quarter of participants, mainly those who described themselves as average or poor programmers, felt less confident in their abilities after the activity, though half of these students liked the activity overall. 54% of all participants said the greatest challenge was developing a general approach to the problems, such as selecting appropriate data structures. This is corroborated by forum comments, where students greatly appreciated “think aloud” presentations by faculty tackling the problems. These results strongly suggest that students would benefit from more open-ended practice, where they have to select and design their own solutions to a range of problems.

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