Aspects of Cognitive Style and Programming

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In E. Dunican & T.R.G. Green (Eds). Proc. PPIG 16 Pages 1-9 16th Workshop of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group. Carlow, Ireland, April 2004 www.ppig.org Aspects of Cognitive Style and Programming Rebecca Mancy, Norman Reid Centre for Science Education University of Glasgow mancyr@dcs.gla.ac.uk, N.Reid@mis.gla.ac.uk Keywords: POP-VI.E. Computer Science Education Research; POP-I.B. Barriers to programming; POP-II.A. Learning Styles; POP-II.A. Individual Differences; POP-V.A. Short-term memory. Abstract There is widespread concern about low pass rates on introductory programming courses. While considerable research has been carried out to elucidate the reasons for this situation, many of the parameters leading to success or failure in the subject remain unknown. This article describes the results of an experiment to test two cognitive characteristics that have been shown to be important in other conceptual areas: working memory space and field dependency. These are related to examination results of around 150 students on an introductory programming course at the University of Glasgow. The results show that whilst working memory space appears to have only a marginal influence on levels of achievement on the course, field dependency is an important factor in determining success. The implications of this on the teaching of the subject are discussed briefly. Introduction Programming has always been, and remains, an important component of computer science degrees. However, introductory programming courses are known for their notoriously poor pass rates. At the University of Glasgow, the CS1P introductory programming course in the Department of Computing Science is no exception. In 2002-2003, only 50% of students obtained at least a C grade required for automatic progression to Level 2 (second year). According to other circumstances, some

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