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Extended Active Learning As A Means To Learn Syntax In Programming Languages

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Information Technologies Classroom Instruction

Tagged Division

Information Systems

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.599.1 - 13.599.7



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Paper Authors

author page

Steven Hansen University of St. Thomas

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

Extended Active Learning As A Means To Learn Syntax in Programming Languages Abstract

Active learning is an education form that has gained much interest in recent years. Many instructors can come up with schemes that help students better learn algorithm development, program development, project management, and other aspects of needed skills in the computer sciences. In the past decade, I worked on the development of active learning techniques to learn syntax. I find that these techniques allow the students to gain better understanding of both computer language syntax and useful processes to enhance learning. To assist the students in active learning, I write labs that ask them to enter and run a program, and then ask the students (in the lab) questions about the syntax, gently pushing them to think about why various parts of the syntax are there, and what those parts do. In this paper I demonstrate the types of questions I ask, focusing on the degree of difficulty, the intent of each question, and the overall goal in affecting the thinking process the students use to approach the task of writing solutions to problems using programming languages.

Body of the Paper

Active learning is a pedagogical technique that has gained favor in recent years. Bonwell and Eison1 suggest that to be considered active, learning must involve more than listening on the part of the students, it must also involve reading, writing, discussion, and/or solving problems. Chickering and Gamson2 extend this definition to state that students “must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves”. McConnell3 applied the concept to computer science realm with his noting that when we prepare to teach, we read, compare what we read to our experiences, synthesize the information into coherent notes, and develop examples to illustrate the concept. He then notes that in doing this we are depriving our students of the very methods we use ourselves to gain an understanding of the material. McConnell further suggest that one can use techniques such as posing questions like: • What will happen if I change this input? • What could happen if I don’t include this conditional check? • Why is it important to reduce the number of operations in sorting algorithms? • Why are all four conditions necessary for deadlock to occur?

Early in my graduate education I had the opportunity to experience the effectiveness of active learning in the collegiate environment. As a graduate teaching assistant in the field of biology, I helped students learn the introductory biology course through the use of stations where they used experimental methods to help them gain first hand the knowledge to which they had been introduced in large lecture classes. Included with the presentation of the information were lab manuals that asked the students questions. Materials to run small experiments were available at lab stations, and the students could

Hansen, S. (2008, June), Extended Active Learning As A Means To Learn Syntax In Programming Languages Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4280

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