Assessing the Understanding of Expressions: A Qualitative Study of Notional-Machine-Based Exam Questions

Istituto del software

Data: 16 Maggio 2024 / 16:30 - 17:30

USI Campus EST, room D1.13, Sector D

Joey Bevilacqua

Notional machines are pedagogical devices that assist the understanding of some aspect of programs or programming. We present a qualitative study of the use of a notional machine - ‘expression as tree’ - as an instrument to assess the student’s understanding of expressions. We collect and analyze a corpus of 542 hand-drawn expression tree diagrams from 12 different exams in 6 university programming courses over the course of 4 years. We devise and use a tailored coding approach that admits a wide variety of mistakes, due to the theoretically well-defined programming language constructs that underpin the notional machine. Our results show that even a single question based on the notional machine is able to provide valuable insights into student’s understanding of several key aspects of programming.

Joey Bevilacqua is a Ph.D. student in the Faculty of Informatics at the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Switzerland, where he is part of the Lugano Computing Education Research Lab (LuCE). He received his Master’s degree in Software and Data Engineering (Università della Svizzera italiana, Switzerland) in June 2023. His current research concentrates on Computer Science Education, with a focus on learning how to program.

Chair: Marco Paganoni

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