Archive for April 17, 2017
Kate Cunningham is a first year PhD student working with me in computing education research. She just won an NSF graduate research fellowship, and the College of Computing interviewed her. She explains the direction that she’s exploring now, which I think is super exciting.
“I’m interested in examining the kinds of things students draw and sketch when they trace through code,” she said. “Can certain types of sketching help students do better when they learn introductory programming?” She grew interested in this topic while working as a teacher for a program in California. As she watched students there work with code, she found that they worked solely with the numbers and text on their computer screen.“They weren’t really drawing,” she said. “I found that the drawing techniques we encouraged were really useful for those students, so I was inspired to study it at Georgia Tech.”
Essentially, the idea is that by drawing or sketching a visual representation of their work as they code, students may be able to better understand the operations of how the computer works. “It’s a term we call the ‘notional machine,’” Cunningham explained. “It’s this idea of how the computer processes the instructions. I think if students are drawing out the process for how their code is working, that can help them to fully understand how the instructions are working.” That’s one benefit. Another, she said, is better collaboration. If a student is sketching the process, she posits, the teacher can better see and understand what they’re thinking.