There have been a good number of studies on computer preparedness of incoming engineering students, but majority of them focus on simply having access to computers. As personal computers are becoming more and more prevalent, this information alone can no longer pinpoint the difference observed in programming readiness among students. A few studies have shown that students with prior programming experience have an initial advantage in introductory programming courses. This paper investigates the relevance of the abovementioned statement in a sophomore level introductory programming course in ECE at a public research university. We look at the number of years of prior programming experience students have upon entering the course and the impact it has on their performance. In particular, we are interested to understand whether the advantage from prior experience is profound only for some parts of the course or throughout the course. Four semesters of data are collected and analyzed, which include over 900 students who have completed the course. Students are categorized into four groups by number of years of prior programming experience, from less than 1 year to more than 3 years. A one-way ANOVA test is used to determine whether there is any statistically significant difference between groups in terms of performance on the following components of the course: programming assignments, computer-based quizzes, and paper exams. A Bonferroni post-hoc test is then applied to determine between which groups such difference exists. Literature has shown that women are less likely than men to enroll in high school programming classes and students from lower socioeconomic status schools have limited resource to learn programming. We hope the result of this study will provide insights on advising freshmen in ECE on preparation for the first programming course in the major, which in turn could help improve the retention rates of under-represented and under-privileged students.
Ziyue Li received her B.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign in 2019. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in ECE from the same institution with the Systems Networking Research Group. She has assisted with undergraduate ECE courses for six semesters and was involved with the development of numerous online courses offered through Coursera. Off campus, she has interned with various teams at Google in designing reliable systems for use in production. Her current research focuses on mobile computing and sensing systems in the acoustic domain.
Dr. Yuting W. Chen received the B.S. degree from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign in 2007, and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2009 and 2011, all in Electrical Engineering. She is currently a Teaching Assistant Professor with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining ECE Illinois, she worked at IBM Systems Group in Poughkeepsie, NY in z Systems Firmware Development. Her current interests include recruitment and retention of under-represented students in STEM, integrative training for graduate teaching assistants, and curriculum innovation for introductory programming courses.
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