Sunday, 27 January 2008

Being encouraged

I have just returned from participation in the Australasian Computing Education conference where I presented some of the work being performed by the BRACELet project. With this project, we are investigating the knowledge of novice programmers and how we might be able to help them learn. Over the last few years, the project has conducted a number of data gathering exercises from a number of different tertiary institutions. Our results have provided some interesting insights and are beginning to attract some attention.

The conference proved to be a real encouragement for me. It is so easy to be focussed on our own work and forget that others are struggling with the same issues. The BRACELet project has involved a lot of collaboration, analysis, and writing. One of the strengths of collaboration is that each participant can work more to their strengths and we can learn how to deal with areas where we have uncertainty. I have learnt a lot about research through this collaboration and my major contribution has been in doing analysis and suggesting a possible analysis method.

With this conference, I began to see how our work has begun to impact others and is now being expanded into a number of Australian universities. The Australian senior researcher, involved in the project, being the keynote speaker for the conference, helped this as he promoted the work of the project.

The project has worked in cycles. We set small goals that were not very ambitious but designed to provide additional data about the way that novice programmers approach initially the reading of programs and now the writing of programs. After getting data for the each question, we analyse it and publish the results and then look at what questions might be answered next. We are not too ambitious about what we might learn but rather set targets that can easily be achieved. The result is a stack of papers that are beginning to influence the way members of the group teach and assess.

One thing about this project is that we aim to gather data through existing mechanisms (i.e. assessments such as final exams). The questions that we ask should help to identify whether the learners understand programming but they also provide us with additional data that can help us understand the novice programmer issues.

Below is a list of the papers that I know about although I am sure that there has been a least two others. It becomes difficult to keep track of what is happening as the group expands. It is certainly an exciting group to be part of.

Some of the BRACELet papers so far

Lister, R. (2008). After the gold rush: toward sustainable scholarship in computing. In Simon & M. Hamilton (Eds.), Tenth Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE 2008) (Vol. 78, pp. 3-18). Wollongong, NSW, Australia: ACS. From http://crpit.com/confpapers/CRPITV78Lister.pdf

Thompson, E., Luxton-Reilly, A., Whalley, J., Hu, M., & Robbins, P. (2008). Bloom’s Taxonomy for CS Assessment. In Simon & M. Hamilton (Eds.), Tenth Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2008) (Vol. 78). Wollongong, Australia: Australian Computer Society Inc.

Clear, T., Edwards, J., Lister, R., Simon, B., Thompson, E., & Whalley, J. (2008). The Teaching of Novice Computer Programmers: Bringing the Scholarly–Research Approach to Australia. In Simon & M. Hamilton (Eds.), Tenth Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2008) (Vol. 78). Wollongong, Australia: Australian Computer Society Inc.

Thompson, E., Whalley, J., Lister, R. & Simon, B. (2006) Code Classification as a Learning and Assessment Exercise for Novice Programmers. The 19th Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications: Preparing for the Future — Capitalising on IT. Wellington. ISSN 1176-8082. (Received Citrus Award for Collaborate Research and highly commended in Best Paper Award)

Lister, R., Simon, B., Thompson, E., Whalley, J. & Prasad, C. (2006) Not seeing the forest for the trees: Novice programmers and the SOLO taxonomy. Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE 2006). Bolonga, Italy.

Whalley, J., Lister, R., Thompson, E., Clear, T., Robbins, P., Kumar, A., et al. (2006). An Australasian study of reading and comprehension skills in novice programmers, using the Bloom and SOLO taxonomies. In D. Tolhurst & S. Mann (Eds.), Eighth Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2006) (Vol. 52, pp. 243-252). Hobart, Tasmania, Australia: Australian Computer Society Inc. ISBN: 1-920-68234-1, ISSN: 1445-1336

Whalley, J. (2006). CSEd research instrument design: the localisation problem. In S. Mann & N. Bridgeman (Eds.), The 19th Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications: Preparing for the Future — Capitilising on IT (pp. 307-312). Wellington: National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications.

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