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Improving the mental models held by novice programmers using cognitive conflict and jeliot visualisations

Ma, L. and Ferguson, J. D. and Roper, M. and Ross, I. and Wood, M. (2009) Improving the mental models held by novice programmers using cognitive conflict and jeliot visualisations. In: ITICSE 2009. ACM, New York, pp. 166-170. ISBN 978-1-60558-381-5

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Recent research has found that many novice programmers often hold non-viable mental models of basic programming concepts which can limit their potential to develop appropriate programming skills. Previous work by the authors suggests that a teaching model that integrates cognitive conflict and program visualisation can help novices formulate appropriate mental models. This paper first outlines a 'concepts roadmap' that provides an ordered approach to learning programming concepts allowing students to build on fundamental base knowledge. It then reports the results of a series of studies investigating the use of the Jeliot visualisation tool as the visualisation component of the proposed learning model when applied to these concepts. The findings include: the ease with which Jeliot can be tailored to visualise a range of concepts using a variety of examples; the Jeliot visualisation of object reference was too complex for CS1 students; further evidence that CS1 students struggle to develop appropriate understanding of a range of key programming concepts; and, further evidence that an integrated cognitive conflict/visualisation strategy can help students develop an appropriate understanding of key programming concepts.