A phenomenographic study of the ways of understanding conditional and repetition structures in computer programming languages

Gregory Warren Bucks, Purdue University


Computers have become an integral part of how engineers complete their work, allowing them to collect and analyze data, model potential solutions and aiding in production through automation and robotics. In addition, computers are essential elements of the products themselves, from tennis shoes to construction materials. An understanding of how computers function, both at the hardware and software level, is essential for the next generation of engineers. Despite the need for engineers to develop a strong background in computing, little opportunity is given for engineering students to develop these skills. Learning to program is widely seen as a difficult task, requiring students to develop not only an understanding of specific concepts, but also a way of thinking. In addition, students are forced to learn a new tool, in the form of the programming environment employed, along with these concepts and thought processes. Because of this, many students will not develop a sufficient proficiency in programming, even after progressing through the traditional introductory programming sequence. This is a significant problem, especially in the engineering disciplines, where very few students receive more than one or two semesters' worth of instruction in an already crowded engineering curriculum. To address these issues, new pedagogical techniques must be investigated in an effort to enhance the ability of engineering students to develop strong computing skills. However, these efforts are hindered by the lack of published assessment instruments available for probing an individual's understanding of programming concepts across programming languages. Traditionally, programming knowledge has been assessed by producing written code in a specific language. This can be an effective method, but does not lend itself well to comparing the pedagogical impact of different programming environments, languages or paradigms. This dissertation presents a phenomenographic research study exploring the different ways of understanding held by individuals of two programming concepts: conditional structures and repetition structures. This work lays the foundation for the development of language independent assessment instruments, which can ultimately be used to assess the pedagogical implications of various programming environments.




Oakes, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Engineering|Science education|Higher education|Computer science

Off-Campus Purdue Users:
To access this dissertation, please log in to our
proxy server