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Navigation and comprehension of procedural language programs

Russell John Mosemann, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Abstract

The method a programmer uses to read a program may determine how an understanding of the program is constructed and how comprehensive the understanding is. The purpose of this research was (1) to study the mental representations being constructed by novice programmers as they used typical methods to navigate program text, (2) to determine the kinds of knowledge a novice programmer extracts from a program and (3) to ascertain whether the method of navigation used by the novice programmer affects the different kinds of knowledge a novice is able extract from the program. ^ One hundred one novice programmers were divided into four groups, one group for each of four navigation methods typically used by programmers. Utilizing a specific method of navigation, subjects viewed a program written in C++ for a period of time. At the end of the navigation period, the program was removed and subjects answered a set of comprehension questions. The questions were designed to determine the kinds of program knowledge the subjects had extracted from the program text and the extent to which the representations were complete. Subjects repeated the same navigation and question activities with a second program written in C++. ^ The results of the study show that different methods of navigation have an affect on novice programmers' understanding of a program. Subjects effectively used typical methods of navigation, but their understanding of a program was diminished when using a method of navigation commonly used only by experts. Subjects were able to extract the various kinds of information from a program necessary to construct comprehension models, but their organization of the details of the program text was not as complete as their understanding of other parts of the program. No interaction was found between the method of navigation and the ability of a novice programmer to comprehend a program. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Behavioral|Computer Science

Recommended Citation

Mosemann, Russell John, "Navigation and comprehension of procedural language programs" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967394.
http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/dissertations/AAI9967394

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