Debugging performance: Creative solutions to developing computer science students’ problem- solving skills

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 39: The Shape of Higher Education

July, 2016, 391 pages
Published by
Melissa Davis & Allan Goody

Programming is an area of learning in computer science that students struggle with; in particular, they debug software poorly. Debugging is a key problem-solving skill in computer science and IT industries. This study examined how novices, undergraduate programming students, go about their debugging and how teachers guiding them into professional life can encourage improved performance. Using action research methodology, a new prototype debugging assessment strategy was developed, evaluated, and advanced. This paper focusses on an action research phase where qualitative data collection methods involved artefact analysis of online activities of students undertaking debugging assessments under computer laboratory trial conditions and both student and teacher focus group interviews. Themes emergent from the data analysis included relevance and transferability of debugging skills, and improvements identified for the strategy. This study resulted in benefits toward addressing key gaps in student learning, and reinforces the value of authentic learning guidelines.

Keywords: authentic assessment; debugging; problem-solving skills