An Empirical Investigation of the Influence of Online Social and Programming Behaviors on Learning Outcomes in Early Computing Courses
Carter, Adam Scott
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At only 46%, computing has one of the lowest baccalaureate retention rates. This statistic is especially distressing given the upward trend in demand for computing professionals. In combination, these facts present a clear crisis for computing education. In an effort to address this problem, this dissertation uses social programming environments (SPEs) to explore the application and impact of social learning theory on students enrolled in early computing courses. Unlike traditional integrated development environments, SPEs provide students with opportunities to form learning communities and to engage other classmates in both formal and informal discussions. Even though participation within a learning community is positively linked to retention, such communities are frequently absent in early computing courses. Our empirical investigation of SPEs yields several illuminating discoveries. First, we find that SPEs are capable of connecting students with each other in ways that help students overcome challenges when programming. Students who use SPEs to ask for and obtain help are more likely to receive higher grades on their homework assignments. Additionally, we discover that, regardless of the kinds of discussions in which they engage, students who regularly participate in the SPE's community are more likely to succeed in a course. Furthermore, we find that SPEs promote an increased sense of community, a key factor in student retention. Lastly, we learn that students' interactions within a SPE yield new insights into their programming processes. Using data collected from an SPE, we are able to identify key differences in the programming behaviors of successful and unsuccessful students. Furthermore, we discover that these data can also be used to construct predictive models of student activity that strongly correlate with course grades. In total, these results suggest that an SPE can offer substantive benefits to a computing course.