Archive for July 7, 2010

Are Storytellers The Best Programmers?

I’ve had this article sitting in my queue to write about for quite awhile.  On the one hand, “storytelling” misses the careful Engineering-like attention to detail that is necessary to code well.  On the other hand, “storytelling” is a form of self-explanation that relates to Darrin’s recent comment about how important that’s been for him in his experience as a professional software developer.

“As for learning how to code, I think good storytellers make the best programmers. I used to freak prospective employees out by having them write a story for me instead of the “what’s wrong with this code?” tests. But it showed me who was able to think well, organized, creatively, and filled in the details.”

via Are Storytellers The Best Programmers?.

July 7, 2010 at 9:53 pm 1 comment

One more from ICLS: The Role of Explanations

I forgot one of the points that I wanted to make from ICLS last week. There were a set of posters from the University of California at Berkeley (Joseph Jay Williams, Tania Lambrozo), U. Texas-Austin (Christine Legare and Leigh Plummer), and New York University (Bob Rehder) asking the question, “Where exactly does explaining help with learning, and where doesn’t it?”

One of hot areas of research in recent years in learning sciences has been the self-explanation phenomenon. Better students tend to explain to themselves what they just read, as a way of monitoring their learning (“Did I get that?”) and as a summarizing activity (“I think that said…”). Weaker students don’t self-explain on their own, but a really interesting feature of this is that all students can be prompted to self-explain, and that does lead to learning benefit. Kate Bielaczyc (now in Singapore, was at Harvard) and Mimi Recker (now Department Chair at Utah — I got to chat with her at ICLS last week) showed that this works in CS, too. But they’re among the few who have tried it in CS, and these new studies make me wonder how far it would work in Computer Science.

These new studies are finding that self-explanation has great benefits (better recall, better chance for transfer), but it also has some weaknesses. “While explaining promotes discovery of regularities, it can impair learning of other information, such as memory for details” (from Williams and Lambrozo). “Explanation may be especially useful for learning some kinds of information (i.e., information about causal functions or mechanisms) and less useful for learning other kinds of information (i.e., memory of individual features)” (from Legare, Lombrozo, and Plummer).

On the one hand, computer science is hard to get transfer and is all about the causal relations. Self-explanations sound great! On the other hand, CS is also a lot about detail, and if self-explanations lose detail, that might hurt our students (e.g., when learning syntax?). It’s always hard to make predictions in learning — our theories just aren’t that strong. It is a really interesting direction to explore further: How do self-explanations help in learning about computing, and are there places where they don’t help?

July 7, 2010 at 7:10 am 2 comments


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