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Developing programming problem-solving skills using individualised screencasts

Winner of the 4th eSTEeM Scholarship Projects of the Year Awards 2021 under the category - Innovative Approach to Teaching.

This project set out to investigate whether tutor feedback via video screencasts could help novice computing students develop skills in programming and in problem-solving, and whether creating such screencasts was feasible for tutors in the normal course of correspondence tuition. TM111 tutors provided short screencasts providing feedback on students' TMA answers, tailored to each individual's misconceptions, mistakes and areas for improvement.

The project was intended to address two main issues.

  1. Problem-solving is increasingly recognised as a key skill required of programmers (Loksa, Ko, Jernigan, Oleson, Mendez and Burnett, 2016). Yet novices often find problem-solving difficult, and educators find teaching problem-solving difficult, not least as different people may solve problems in different, but equally valid ways.  TM111 was the first OU computing module explicitly to embed teaching of problem-solving techniques. Still, some students struggle to develop successful problem-solving strategies, as evidenced by TMA results. This project explored how tutors might aid such students to become better programmers, more able to continue successfully through a computing-related degree, by providing them with audio-visual insight into how an experienced programmer (the tutor) would solve a problem, following the lines of the student's own initial thought processes.
  2. As the OU's introductory computing module TM111 is the first point at which novice programmers meet key programming concepts such as iteration and selection. These 'threshold' concepts are well-known areas of difficulty for novice programmers as has been found on predecessor computing courses such as TU100, and more widely (Rountree & Rountree, 2007). This project addressed students' misconceptions about such concepts.

Screencasting individual TMA feedback was found to be useful for students and viable in terms of time and effort for tutors in specific circumstances, notably where the screencast:

  • focusses on developing students' transferrable programming concepts and skills
  • exploits the visual aspects of code creation
  • is created for solutions where student has invested time and effort and got somewhere, that are somewhat correct but sub-optimal or wrong in some respect.

We found that whilst screencasting technologies themselves are freely available and easy to use, delivering screencasts to students is not straightforward due to file size and security concerns. The optimum delivery route currently seems to be YouTube; however, care must be taken to ensure screencasts are unlisted for privacy, and even so some tutors and students may have other concerns about using YouTube.  The development of a new eTMA system may offer additional options.

Related Resources: 
PDF icon Sarah Mattingly, Individualised screencasts. eSTEeM final report.pdf826.98 KB

eSTEeM final report.

PDF icon Sarah Mattingly.pdf152.15 KB

Project poster.