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Employing Literate Programming Instruction in a Microprocessors Course

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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

Assessing Literacies in Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

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Paper Authors


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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Mahnas Jean Mohammadi-Aragh Mississippi State University Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Jean Mohammadi-Aragh is an assistant research professor with a joint appointment in the Bagley College of Engineering dean’s office and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Mississippi State University. Through her role in the Hearin Engineering First-year Experiences (EFX) Program, she is assessing the college’s current first-year engineering efforts, conducting rigorous engineering education research to improve first-year experiences, and promoting the adoption of evidence-based instructional practices. In addition to research in first year engineering, Dr. Mohammadi-Aragh investigates technology-supported classroom learning and using scientific visualization to improve understanding of complex phenomena. She earned her Ph.D. (2013) in Engineering Education from Virginia Tech, and both her M.S. (2004) and B.S. (2002) in Computer Engineering from Mississippi State. 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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Learning to program is difficult and has been documented as a persistent problem not just for computer science majors, but also for other engineering majors who use programming as a tool within their disciplines. One solution may lie in Knuth’s literate programming paradigm, which treats a program as an essay, intermingling code with explanation in a beautifully typeset document. This stands in contrast to traditional programming pedagogy where difficult-to-understand code is isolated from its explanation, in a separate file from the flowcharts and text which detail the operation of the program. Knuth’s literate programming paradigm is consistent with cognitive load theory, which states that keeping related concepts close, temporally or spatially, can improve the ability of students to grasp difficult ideas. Based on this, we hypothesize that programs intermingled with explanation and typeset as a document will improve student learning when compared to traditional instruction in which programs and their explanation remain separated. In this paper, we examine the use of literate programming in a junior-level course on microprocessors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering using both a student survey and analysis of test scores. By alternating between literate programs/documents and traditional programs with accompanying explanations, we evaluate learning gains measured by performance on tests with and without literate programming. Results show a mild preference by students for the literate programming form, and analysis of student performance on tests shows small (but statistically insignificant) gains when using literate programming. Based on these results, we discuss future directions for this new approach to programming pedagogy.

Jones, B. A., & Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J. (2016, June), Employing Literate Programming Instruction in a Microprocessors Course Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26941

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