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Progression Highlighting for Programming Courses

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Computers in Education 6: Best of CoED

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Nabeel Alzahrani University of California, Riverside

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Nabeel Alzahrani is a Computer Science Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California, Riverside. Nabeel's research interests include causes of student struggle, and debugging methodologies, in introductory computer programming courses.

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Frank Vahid University of California, Riverside

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Frank Vahid is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the Univ. of California, Riverside. His research interests include embedded systems design, and engineering education. He is a co-founder of

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Many CS instructors desire to see more than a student's final submission on a programming assignment, wanting visibility into how the student developed their code. Recently, program auto- graders have grown in usage. A popular cloud-based auto-grader, used in over a thousand university courses, provides a log with an entry whenever a student compiles/runs or submits their code. Beyond time/date and score, each entry links to a source code snapshot. Using that log file as input, we introduce "code progression highlighting" as a mechanism for instructors to gain visibility into students' code development. The highlighter starts with a statistical summary for each student in roster form, sortable by any statistic such as time spent, number of attempts, code size, a struggle metric, and more. For any student, an instructor can expand to view all code entries, highlighted to show changes from the previous entry (the "progression"), with statistics per entry like time spent, characters changed, current score, etc. The progression highlighter helps instructors to assist students in office hours, to detect some cheating not detectable by similarity checkers, or to see where students are struggling. Our progression highlighter is free on the web for instructors to use, simply by uploading the log file from the popular auto-grader, or from any system whose log file is converted to that format, and thus can serve the community of CS instructors to gain insights on their students' code development processes.

Alzahrani, N., & Vahid, F. (2021, July), Progression Highlighting for Programming Courses Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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