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Coding the Coders: A Qualitative Investigation of Students’ Commenting Patterns

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Conference

2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

COED: Issues Impacting Students Learning How to Program

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Tagged Topic

Diversity

Page Count

14

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/30198

Download Count

37

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Paper Authors

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Mahnas Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Mississippi State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/https://0000-0002-3094-3734

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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 formation of engineers during their undergraduate degree program, and the use of computing to measure and support that formation. 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 J. Beck Mississippi State University

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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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Donna Reese Mississippi State University

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Donna Reese is currently a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Mississippi State University. She served as head of the department from 2010 to 2016. Prior to that she served for six years as associate dean in the Bagley College of Engineering. Her research interests are in recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups in computing and engineering fields.

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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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Monika Jankun-Kelly Mississippi State University

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Monika Jankun-Kelly has taught introductory and intermediate computer science courses at Mississippi State University for several years.

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Abstract

Learning to program is a complex task and has been documented as a persistent challenge. Based on literature documenting writing as a vehicle to help students learn, the authors propose integrating Writing-to-Learn (WTL) strategies in support of learning to program. WTL activities are usually short, low-stakes writing assignments that are designed to promote reflection, analysis, synthesis, and deeper understanding of course material. When integrated into a problem-solving assignment, such as a programming lab, WTL prompts allow students to think about the choices they are making and the reasons for those choices. Students’ writings become an artifact of the changes and growth that accompany learning and provide instructors with a rare insight into students’ learning, including thinking and organizational processes. While others have shown that writing reflections after programming supports learning, we are investigating the impact of fully integrating explanations and reflections into the act of programming. In our implementation, we follow the principles of Knuth’s literate programming paradigm, which views programming as authoring a document that happens to contain source code.

As a first step in investigating how intermingled writing and coding can improve the process of learning to program, we have employed qualitative methods to create a qualitative codebook of students’ commenting patterns. Using systematic open coding techniques outlined by Strauss and Corbin, we examined source code comments from students’ introductory programming laboratory assignments in two phases. First, we analyzed each source code comment line-by-line to determine if it contained meaningful information about the author’s thinking process and the type of thinking it represented (e.g., explaining an action, providing justification for a design choice). Our examination resulted in five categories of comments: literal, conceptual, reflective, organizational, and insufficient. Second, we re-analyzed source code comments as a group to determine the visual organizational scheme. Our examination resulted in four categories: unitization, every-line, block-level, and insufficient.

This paper will include a detailed description of the qualitative methods used to create the codebook, including an overview of open coding techniques. The current codebook will be presented including illustrative examples of each comment category. We will also present the results from our initial analysis of student source code using our codebook, which found that students in the traditional instruction laboratories used a literal/every-line or a conceptual/every-line commenting style, while students in the Writing-to-Learn laboratories used a literal/every-line or a conceptual/unitization commenting style.

Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J., & Beck, P. J., & Barton, A. K., & Reese, D., & Jones, B. A., & Jankun-Kelly, M. (2018, June), Coding the Coders: A Qualitative Investigation of Students’ Commenting Patterns Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30198

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