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A Quantitative Approach For Choosing A Procedural Programming Language In Freshman Programming

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.40.1 - 2.40.18



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Thomas J. Cortina

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2632

A Quantitative Approach for Choosing a Procedural Programming Language in Freshman Programming

Thomas J. Cortina Polytechnic University

An important problem that colleges and universities continue to struggle with is the choice of programming language for the first programming course. During the summer of 1996, I ran an experiment to gain quantitative information concerning how well high-school students not familiar with programming adapt to four different procedural programming languages (Pascal, ADA95, C, and C++). The goal of this research is to determine if the choice of introductory programming language has any measurable effect on the learning ability of a typical student in the introductory programming course taught at a typical engineering school. Initial analysis indicates that students learning Pascal or C++ (without the use of objects) for the first time performed marginally better than students that learned ADA95 or C. However, student surveys indicate that several constructs used in ADA95 and C caused these introductory students to have more difficulty. By adjusting the presentation of these topics, the instructor can teach effectively in any of the four programming languages. This paper outlines the design and the results of the experiment, and future work that can extend these results.


Colleges and universities continue to struggle with the choice of programming language for the first programming course, typically denoted CS1 [1] [7]. Traditionally, the choice of language has been based on personal preferences of faculty members based on previous experience or influence from industry, high schools, and other faculty members [9]. Many papers have been published describing experiences using one particular programming language to teach CS1 (e.g. [10], [11]).

During the summer of 1996, an experiment was run at Polytechnic University to determine if the choice of programming language truly affects how a student learns how to program a computer. A set of approximately 100 eligible high school students were invited to take our standard introductory programming course, and their performances on assignments and tests were recorded for comparison. Each student was required to have two years of high school mathematics and no prior experience with computer programming (with the exception of some minimal BASIC programming). Students chosen for this course represent typical college freshmen who may pursue undergraduate degrees in science and engineering fields.


Cortina, T. J. (1997, June), A Quantitative Approach For Choosing A Procedural Programming Language In Freshman Programming Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6753

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