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Writing-to-Learn-to-Program: Examining the Need for a New Genre in Programming Pedagogy

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Conference

2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition

Location

Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015

ISBN

978-0-692-50180-1

ISSN

2153-5965

Conference Session

Communication Across the Divisions III: Writing as Social–Technical Integration

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Computing & Information Technology

Page Count

13

Page Numbers

26.1779.1 - 26.1779.13

DOI

10.18260/p.25114

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/25114

Download Count

88

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Paper Authors

biography

Bryan A. Jones Mississippi State University

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Bryan A. Jones (S’00–M’00) 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 Assistant Professor with the 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 current research interests include robotics, real-time control-system implementation, rapid prototyping for real-time systems, and modeling and analysis of mechatronic systems

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biography

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

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Dr. M. 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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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 has served as head of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Mississippi State University since 2010. 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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Hejia Pan Mississippi State University

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Hejia Pan received the B.S. degree in automation from the University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei, China, in 2007 and the Ph.D. degree from Mississippi State University in 2011.
He is currently with Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, USA. His research interests include engineering education, literate programming and modern control theory.

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Abstract

Writing to Learn to Program using a Programmer’s Word Processor  As  educators,  we  have  trained  a  generation  of  illiterate  programmers.  Despite  myriads  of  documents that  software  engineering  should  (and  occasionally  actually  does)  produce,   such  as  requirements documents,  UML  diagrams  specifying  interfaces,  and  API  documentation  extraction  tools  (Javadoc, Doxygen,  etc.),  few  practicing  programmers  use  the  written  word  to  enable  them  to  produce  code. What  documentation  is  produced often bears little relationship to the actual implementation after the first major revision or refactoring of the program.  Writing  distinguishes  humans  from  animals,  making  thoughts  visible  while prompting reflection and deep understanding.  It  is  essential  in  almost  every  area  of  human  endeavor,  by  extending  our  abilities (memory,  recall, etc.) to enable us to solve complex problems that would otherwise be insoluble. Yet,  in the  context  of  software  engineering,  little  is  done  to  mediate  the  transference  of  ideas  to  code  with  the written  word.  While  external documentation serves to provide a conceptual framework for the externals of  a  program  (its  interfaces,  requirements,  and  specifications),  poorly  used, typically omitted comments provide  the  only  means  for  programmers  to  record  their  ideas,  along  with  the  implementation  they create.  How  have  we  created  a  system  designed  to  make  writing  as  difficult  and  inflexible  as  possible, forcing programmers to be coders, not writers?  Therefore,  we  propose  writing  to  learn  to  program  (WTLTP),  in  which  writing  is  intermingled  with  the program  itself,  following the literate programming paradigm. While students are typically given  an overall goal  their  program  must  satisfy  and  then  instructed  in  specific  constructs  (loops,  functions,  recursive algorithms,  etc.),  the  struggle   most  students  face  is  to  find  the  set  of  constructs  that  satisfies  the  goal. This  is  the  creative  process,  the  heart  of  any  programming  exercise,  and  it  is  typically  omitted  from  all classroom  instruction.  Experts  can  intuitively  perform  this  mapping  from  goals  to  code,  while  most novices  struggle  with  this  step. This is the point at which WTLTP can  be of immense benefit because by providing  the  novice  with  the  opportunity  to   reflect,  in  writing,  on  goals  and  structures,  visualizing  their thought process within a document.  To  assist  students  in  viewing  a  program  as   a  document,  rather  than  as  a  series  of  instructions  for  a computer,  the  CodeChat  extensions   contributed  by  the  authors  to  the  Enki  text  editor  provide  a WYSIWYG­like  environment  that  shows  a  both  the  unformatted  source  code  of  a  program  side­ by­side  with  a  typeset  HTML  version  of  the  program.  Changes  made  to  the  source  code  are immediately rendered to the web page, encouraging them to treat their program as a document. Through the  writing  process,  the  unconscious  art  form  of  programming  becomes  a  concrete  reality  in  which students  begin  to  discover  what  they  do  not  understand  and  find  solutions  to  problems  previously insoluble.    Fig. 1: CodeChat in Enki, show source code on the left and the corresponding web page on the right, complete with typeset equations and plots produced by the underlying Matlab code. 

Jones, B. A., & Mohammadi-Aragh, M. J., & Barton, A. K., & Reese, D., & Pan, H. (2015, June), Writing-to-Learn-to-Program: Examining the Need for a New Genre in Programming Pedagogy Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.25114

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