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Using cognitive conflict and visualisation to improve mental models held by novice programmers

Ma, L. and Ferguson, J. D. and Roper, M. and Ross, I. and Wood, M. (2008) Using cognitive conflict and visualisation to improve mental models held by novice programmers. In: Proceedings of the 39th ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. ACM, pp. 342-346. ISBN 978-1-59593-799-5

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Abstract

Recent research has found that many novice programmers often hold non-viable mental models of basic programming concepts such as assignment and object reference, which can limit their potential to develop programming skills. This paper proposes a constructivist-based teaching model that integrates cognitive conflict and program visualisation with the aim of supporting novice programmers in the formulation of appropriate mental models. The results of an initial empirical study produced three findings of note. Firstly, a teaching model based on either visualisation alone or cognitive conflict integrated with visualisation can help students develop viable models of value assignment. Secondly, there was evidence to suggest that cognitive conflict integrated with visualisation outperformed visualisation alone in helping students develop viable models of the more challenging concept of object reference assignment. And thirdly, there was evidence of an improvement in students' understanding of value and object reference assignment using the teaching model based on visualisation and cognitive conflict.