An Irish Cross-Institutional User Needs Analysis of Undergraduate Programming
Research literature and practical experience of subject experts indicate that teaching programming to novices has proven challenging for both learner and lecturer. A number of difficulties arise when teaching novices to program. These ranges from the inadequacy of the undergraduate studentsâ?? problem-solving skills, problems with understanding programming constructs, to the complexity of the environments in which the students develop their solutions. This paper outlines a project which aims to address some of the challenges faced by novice programmers by providing them with an innovative learning tool, incorporating a set of Reusable Learning Objects (RLOs), based on sound pedagogical principles and encapsulated in a Constructivist Learning Environment (CLE). The Learning Objects will focus on the common areas of weaknesses that are determined by an Irish cross-institutional User Needs Analysis. The initial research activity was to conduct a User Needs Analysis, which was carried out in the three third level academic partner institutions and which will inform and direct the remainder of the research project. The User Needs Analysis confirmed that first year undergraduate students find programming the most challenging module they study. Programming constructs such as Arrays, Looping and Selection were shown to be the most problematic in semester one, and Methods and Polymorphism posing difficulties in semester two. Interestingly the studentsâ?? actual and perceived difficulties with the concepts were not in-line, with the students perceiving their difficulties to be less than they actually were. The students acknowledge that problem-solving abilities impacted on their performance but only 20% of students in one college admitted to thinking about their approach in designing programming solutions. The results of the User Needs Analysis directs the design and development of the RLOs and the learning tool.
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