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A Case Study of Writing to Learn to Program: Codebook Implementation and Analysis

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

ERM Technical Session 23: Courses and Research on Communication

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

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Paper Authors


Mahnas Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Mississippi State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jean Mohammadi-Aragh is an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Mississippi State University. Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh investigates the use of digital systems to measure and support engineering education, specifically through learning analytics and the pedagogical uses of digital systems. She also investigates fundamental questions critical to improving undergraduate engineering degree pathways. . She earned her Ph.D. in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech. In 2013, Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh was honored as a promising new engineering education researcher when she was selected as an ASEE Educational Research and Methods Division Apprentice Faculty.

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Phyllis Beck Mississippi State University


Amy K. Barton Mississippi State University

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Amy Barton is Technical Writing Instructor in the Shackouls Technical Communication Program at Mississippi State University. In 2013, she was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers for the Bagley College of Engineering. She is an active member of the Southeastern Section of ASEE. Her research focuses on incorporating writing to learn strategies into courses across the curriculum.

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Bryan A. Jones Mississippi State University

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Bryan A. Jones received the B.S.E.E. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from Rice University, Houston, TX, in 1995 and 2002, respectively, and the Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Clemson University, Clemson, SC, in 2005. He is currently an Associate Professor at Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS.

From 1996 to 2000, he was a Hardware Design Engineer with Compaq, where he specialized in board layout for high-availability redundant array of independent disks (RAID) controllers. His research interests include engineering education, robotics, and literate programming.

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Introductory computer science courses continue to be a barrier to engineers who are pursuing a computing degree pathway. Learning to program requires students to self-monitor and self-assess their programming metacognition. Based on the idea that writing is a visual representation of thinking, Writing-to-learn (WTL) activities are usually short, low-stakes writing assignments that are designed to promote reflection, analysis, synthesis, and deeper understanding of course material. WTL activities can promote metacognition in any discipline. The research discussed in this paper focuses on answering the following two research questions: RQ1) What do source code comments tell us about novice programmers’ organizational and thinking processes while coding? RQ2) How do WTL activities impact novice programmers’ organizational and thinking processes? In this paper, we present a case study that demonstrates how we used WTL techniques and the literate programming paradigm in an introductory programming course. Next, we detail our analysis using three laboratory assignments to describe how we analyzed student submissions to create a qualitative codebook for students’ Visual Organization Strategy and Thinking Processes. Students’ Visual Organization Strategy is a top-level overview of the organizational structure of students’ code and the underlying characteristics such as white-space, commenting patterns, and blocks of code that students use to visually communicate the structure of their code. We identified five Visual Organization Strategies: Block-level, Unitization, Every-line, insufficient and None. Student’s Thinking Processes are a line-by-line determination of the level of programming metacognition and strategic knowledge. Our efforts resulted in six categories of Thinking Processes: Organizational, Reflective, Conceptual, Literal, Insufficient, and None. We conclude the paper with initial classification results for WTL sections, and a description of future applications of our research.

Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J., & Beck, P., & Barton, A. K., & Jones, B. A. (2019, June), A Case Study of Writing to Learn to Program: Codebook Implementation and Analysis Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31943

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