What vs how : comparing students' testing and coding skills

Fidge, Colin J., Hogan, James M., & Lister, Raymond (2013) What vs how : comparing students' testing and coding skills. In Carbone, Angela & Whalley, Jacqueline (Eds.) Proceedings of the Fifteenth Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE2013),, Australian Computer Society in the Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology (CRPIT), Adelaide, South Australia, pp. 97-106.

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The well-known difficulties students exhibit when learning to program are often characterised as either difficulties in understanding the problem to be solved or difficulties in devising and coding a computational solution. It would therefore be helpful to understand which of these gives students the greatest trouble. Unit testing is a mainstay of large-scale software development and maintenance. A unit test suite serves not only for acceptance testing, but is also a form of requirements specification, as exemplified by agile programming methodologies in which the tests are developed before the corresponding program code. In order to better understand students’ conceptual difficulties with programming, we conducted a series of experiments in which students were required to write both unit tests and program code for non-trivial problems. Their code and tests were then assessed separately for correctness and ‘coverage’, respectively. The results allowed us to directly compare students’ abilities to characterise a computational problem, as a unit test suite, and develop a corresponding solution, as executable code. Since understanding a problem is a pre-requisite to solving it, we expected students’ unit testing skills to be a strong predictor of their ability to successfully implement the corresponding program. Instead, however, we found that students’testing abilities lag well behind their coding skills.

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ID Code: 58781
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Object-oriented programming, Learning to program, HERN, Program specification, Unit testing
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2013 please consult the authors
Deposited On: 02 Apr 2013 01:31
Last Modified: 24 Feb 2015 06:03

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