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Applying Second Language Acquisition to Facilitate a Blended Learning of Programming Languages

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

NSF Grantees’ Poster Session

Tagged Topic

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.228.1 - 26.228.6



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Paper Authors


Lulu Sun Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ., Daytona Beach

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Lulu Sun is an associate professor in the Engineering Fundamentals Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, where she has taught since 2006. She received her B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Harbin Engineering University (China), in 1999, and her Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering from University of California, Riverside, in 2006. Before joining Embry-riddle, she worked in the consulting firm of Arup at Los Angeles office as a fire engineer. Her research interests include engineering education and its pedagogies relating to programming language, and engineering graphics. She is a professional member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineer, and a member of American Society of Engineering Education.

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Christina Frederick Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Frederick is currently a Professor and Graduate Program Coordinator in the Human Factors and Systems Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. Dr. Frederick received her Ph.D. in 1991 from the University of Rochester with a major in Psychological Development. She previously taught at the University of Rochester, Southern Utah University and the University of Central Florida. In 2000, Dr. Frederick joined the Human Factors and Systems Department at Embry-Riddle, where her work focused on applied motivation and human factors issues in aviation/aerospace. Dr. Frederick also served in various roles in University administration between 2004-2012, including Vice President for Academics and Research. Dr. Frederick’s current research interests examine how individual differences interact with technology to enhance educational engagement and performance. Dr. Frederick is the author of more than 50 research publications, 4 book chapters and over 60 regional, national and international conference presentations on a wide range of topics in human factors and psychology. She is active in a number of professional associations, and is a Consultant for Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology.

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Applying Second Language Acquisition to Facilitate a Blended Learning of Programming LanguagesComputer programing is a common mandatory course taught in the first year of engineering andcomputer science programs. These types of courses typically utilize a common programminglanguage (MATLAB, C, Java) to teach students about syntax, programming techniques, andintroduce students to applied problem solving. Learning a computer programing language hasbeen known to be difficult for high-school and university students because of the lack of time forpractice, in addition to the conceptual complexity and logical reasoning processes. Programmingcourses are critical to the learning needs of students in STEM majors as they provide studentswith problem solving skills that are easily transferrable and contextually relevant to math andscience courses in the curriculum. A student who is better prepared to understand and solveproblems, regardless of the context, will be better prepared to persist throughout highereducation.This paper describes a recent NSF funded project under the Research Initiation Grant inEngineering Education (RIGEE) program. It correlates the programming language study tosecond language acquisition theory. Learning a programming language can be seen as analogousto learning a foreign or second language, since both involve the appropriate use of vocabulary(keywords), grammatical structures (syntax), and punctuation (symbols) that people need tounderstand in order to communicate with the computer. Just as knowledge of the vocabulary,grammar, and punctuation do not make someone fluent in a spoken language, being a successfulprogrammer requires more than just rote-knowledge. Current introductory programming coursesoften struggle to provide enough problem solving because so much time is spent on learning therote elements of the language. By applying the well-developed cognitive frameworks used insecond language acquisition (SLA), a Blended Learning (aBLe) course can be developed thatwill accommodate a variety of learning needs and abilities, while potentially increasing studentengagement in online components, providing better preparation for face-to-face classes that willemphasize the problem solving needed in other general education courses instead of justkeywords, syntax, and symbols. It will encourage the development of problem solving skillsneeded to persist in their higher education.

Sun, L., & Frederick, C. (2015, June), Applying Second Language Acquisition to Facilitate a Blended Learning of Programming Languages Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23567

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