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What's Wrong With My Code (WWWMC)

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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

Best of Computers in Education Division

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

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Paper Authors


Adam Thomas Koehler University of California - Riverside Orcid 16x16

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Current Computer Science Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside with a research emphasis in computer science education.

Prior to my Ph.D. studies, I attended Marquette University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and a Master's of Science degree in Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science with a concentration in computer science.

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The student-instructor relationship benefits from being similar to an apprenticeship. The apprentice, or student, gains knowledge and ability by learning from a more skilled individual, the instructor. An apprenticeship is filled with one-on-one interactions. Knowledge, including information about topic specific misconceptions, is imparted through these interactions. Within computer science education, these interactions come through student-instructor meetings and feedback on submissions. Individualized interactions allow the student to present a misconception to an instructor through labs, exams, office hours, or forums. Students receive feedback to fix their misconception through the instructor explaining why a solution is correct or incorrect. Unfortunately, these interactions can be time-consuming. Automated assessment and directed educational tools attempt to address the time concerns by presenting the student with immediate feedback.

One of the most common questions posed by a student in a programming course is "What's wrong with my code?" The query is often followed by an excerpt or description of the code. Such questions are often derived from fundamental programming misconceptions. Our instructional tool, What's Wrong With My Code (WWWMC), identifies these misconceptions and automates the student-instructor interaction, providing efficient and helpful pedagogical feedback.

The first part of WWWMC problem design is to understand the programming dilemmas that students present to instructors. We concentrated on typical misconceptions in a C++ based CS1 course. We gathered issues presented by students to instructors in various settings across six academic quarters, giving us a relatively large dataset. Past researchers have outlined specific CS1 issues, although often in a Java environment, our own findings echoed some of these categories.

From our gathered issues, we selected over fifty problems encountered by multiple students that were relevant to concepts taught within the academic quarter. We then created three potential solutions, derived from student answers, to each identified problem, at least one of which was always correct. Additionally, with every potential solution, a clear and concise instructor explanation was created. The sum of these parts ‒ 1) the problematic code; 2) the proposed student solutions; and 3) the individualized instructor explanations ‒ create automated “teaching moments” for students.

Studies were then conducted to evaluate the pedagogical efficacy of the WWWMC tool. One study compared WWWMC to another automated assessment tool, Codelab. Another study compared WWWMC to an in-house automated assessment used for course labs. Study participants performed a background survey, pre-quiz (ten questions), then a lesson (either WWWMC or Codelab/Lab problems), then a post-quiz (ten questions), and, finally, a follow-up survey. In the aforementioned studies, students using WWWMC posted improvement scores from pre- to post-quiz of 17.3% and 11.3%. The WWWMC scores were 7% higher than Codelab counterparts (p-value 0.033) and 8% higher than lab counterparts (p-value < 0.001). Thus, the What's Wrong With My Code problem set was significantly more effective than the automatic assessment tools for improving quiz scores, and provides a new, more efficacious offering in this developing area of computer science pedagogy.

Koehler, A. T. (2016, June), What's Wrong With My Code (WWWMC) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27196

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