This paper investigates how first-year students learn programming through lectures involving team-based activities. Although programming instruction has traditionally been performed through individual means, advocates of “pair-programming” provide support for collaborative learning in software engineering. While these studies have explored dyads of programming students, this study goes further and investigates the effects of learning introductory computer programming in teams of four or five students. The primary research questions being investigated in this paper include: 1) how do team-based activities affect student participation?, 2) do team-based activities improve learning outcomes on programming assignments?, and 3) did student-reported effort, time, and value of programming change between the two years? To answer these questions, data was collected from an introductory engineering course contributing five weeks to programming instruction. Two sets of data have been collected: the initial set from an entirely individual, module version of the curriculum (Fall 2016), and the second set from a curriculum with added lectures and team-based activities (Fall 2017). Homework performance data were collected from the set of problems common to both years, along with the results of a survey taken by students about their perceptions of the programming portion of the course.
Statistical analysis revealed no significant difference in overall homework scores between the two years, but there was a significant increase in scores on programming projects, which were a set of more challenging problems at the end of Chapters 2-5 homework assignments. Average number of attempts per problem and number of problems completed did not change significantly between the two years. Results of the survey show that students generally perceived a lower workload and felt that the programming material was more valuable to them with in-class lectures and team activities.
Future direction based on this study indicate the potential need for more in-class instruction, either in the form of more team activities or lectures. Pair programming, dyads, has been shown to be successful in the literature and will be considered in this course in the future.
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