The learning process in introductory programming courses has captivated the interests of researchers for some time. Computer scientists and practitioners have studied novice programmers’ difficulties and reported extensively on what they have uncovered. Educational researchers also studied learning in general and introductory-level courses in specific, with their own set of results, of which one important finding is on threshold concepts. The present work aims to identify a potential threshold concept in introductory programming courses and propose a solution to help students surpass that threshold, with the ultimate goal of improving the learning experience for novice programmers.
Traditionally, novices encounter many difficulties in learning how to program for a variety of reasons including lack of problem solving strategies, misconceptions of code syntax and semantics, and inability to develop an adequate mental model of the machine.
In this session, we highlight the potential of understanding threshold concepts by instructors in Higher Education, examine these difficulties, and identify a threshold that learners need to surpass when taking an introductory-level programming course.
We summarize the potential of visualization, collaboration, and analogy techniques in alleviating difficulties, and present a sample computer model for the introduction of programming to beginners based on the composition of these techniques, and aimed at helping learners surpass a learning threshold.
The model relies on a generic instruction set and on the introduction of simplified UML activity diagrams. While shielding learners from Syntax details, we place strong emphasis on proper design and modeling prior to coding. To complete the proposed model, we assist novices figuring out what goes on as programs are executed by visualization the steps of the execution with simplified memory snapshots.
We conclude with exploring some of the model’s benefits and sharing some of initial findings of the adoption of the model in actual teaching. One of the important conclusions of this study that is worth sharing with the AMICAL members is that the understanding of difficulties and identification of thresholds, succeeded significantly in improving students’ academic achievement.