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Can We Teach a Programming Language as a Second Language?

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Software and Programming

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Lulu Sun Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - 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 second language acquisition in programming languages, and online course design She is a professional member of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and a member of the American Society for Engineering Education.

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Christina Frederick Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - Daytona Beach 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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Paula Sanjuan Espejo Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - Daytona Beach

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I am an UG Aerospace Engineering student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach. I am from Spain and I am currently working on the SLA-aBLE project, the Implementation and Evaluation of Second Language Acquisition applied to programming courses.

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Rachel Marie Cunningham Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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Rachel is a Graduate Research Assistant at ERAU in the Game-based Education & Advanced Simulations Lab. She has been historian for the ERAU Student Chapter of Human Factors & Ergonomics Society and a Psi Chi National Honors Society member for two years, and was Student Chair of the 10th annual Human Factors and Applied Psychology Conference, held on Embry-Riddle's campus. Her research interests are in design and creative thinking and along with this NSF grant project she is working on research for interpersonal development, which she has presented at two national conferences.

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Programing language typically involves new vocabulary (keywords), punctuation (symbols), and grammatical structures (syntax) that people need to understand in order to communicate with computer. In other words, programming language is like a second language. Just as knowledge of the vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation do not make someone fluent in a spoken language, being a successful programmer requires more than just rote-knowledge. Current introductory programming courses often struggle to provide enough problem solving because so much time is spent on learning the rote elements of the language. By applying the well-developed cognitive frameworks used in second language acquisition (SLA), a Blended Learning (aBLe) course can be developed that will accommodate a variety of learning needs and abilities, while potentially increasing student engagement in online components, reducing the intimidation and anxiety associated with learning programming languages, and providing better preparation for face-to-face classes. SLA-aBLe will emphasize the problem solving needed in other general education courses instead of just keywords, syntax, and symbols. It will encourage the development of problem solving skills needed to persist in their higher education.

This paper describes a design and implementation of a SLA-aBLe project in 2015, which was funded by NSF Research Initiation Grant in Engineering Education (RIGEE) program. This study will test the hypothesis that the use of cognitive frameworks in second language acquisition for the development of a blended learning of programming languages can improve engagement and the learning experience of engineering students. Using this approach will place greater emphasis on problem solving techniques that can be utilized in all courses. The online module consists of a series of short videos (10-20 minutes), online quizzes with tiered questions, and topic specified discussion board led by student researchers. The lab practice time is used to augment the online content through collaborative learning such as think, pair, and share. SLA-aBLe study is emphasized through strategies in five stages defined in SLA theory such as more self-testing tiered questions and visual-aided explanation in the screencasts, more online programming writing assessment, more collaboration, and ‘speak aloud’ in the lab. Student’s demographic data, course-related behaviors such as usage of the instructional videos and discussion board, student performance such as quizzes, and exams, attitude toward the class will be compared across students in the SLA-aBLe, and control groups to determine if student performance, behavior and attitudes vary across classrooms employing different teaching strategies.

Sun, L., & Frederick, C., & Sanjuan Espejo, P., & Cunningham, R. M. (2016, June), Can We Teach a Programming Language as a Second Language? Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26434

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