How students learn to program: Observations of practical work based on tasks completed

Thomas, Pete and Paine, Carina (2000). How students learn to program: Observations of practical work based on tasks completed. Technical Report 2000/03; Department of Computing, The Open University.



Students on a distance education course in introductory object oriented programming are asked to engage in a number of practical, computer-based activities. Each practical activity consists of a significant number of small tasks packaged together into sessions. This paper analyses students' attempts at the tasks in terms of the number of tasks attempted and the time taken to complete the activities with a view to identifying patterns of behaviour. The observed student behaviour is then compared with the behaviour recommended by the course designers. The results reveal both expected and unexpected behaviours and provide some useful feedback on the design of practical activities. In addition, since students perform their practical activities at home on their own PCs, a software recorder gathered the basic information for analysis by another item of software known as the Tasks Completed Tool. The amount of data collected is too large for manual analysis making an automatic analysis tool essential. The paper describes the analysis tool and illustrates how it has been used to identify student behaviours.

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