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Improving the viability of mental models held by novice programmers

Ma, L. and Ferguson, J. and Roper, M. and Wood, M. (2007) Improving the viability of mental models held by novice programmers. In: Eleventh Workshop on Pedagogies and Tools for the Teaching and Learning of Object Oriented Concepts. ECOOP Workshops 2007, 2007-07-01. (Unpublished)

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Recent research has found that many novice programmers often hold non-viable mental models of basic programming concepts such as assignment and object reference. This paper proposes a constructivist-based teaching model, integrating a cognitive conflict strategy with program visualization, with the aim of improving novice programmers’ mental models. The results of a preliminary empirical study suggest that, for the relatively straightforward concept of assignment, tight integration of program visualization with a cognitive conflict event that highlights a student’s inappropriate understanding can help improve students’ non-viable mental models. 14 out of 18 participants who held non-viable mental models of the assignment process successfully changed their model to be viable as a result of the proposed teaching model.