Title: Help When They Need It: How Programming Environments Can Support Struggling Students

Thomas W. Price
Computer Science Department
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC USA


Programming environments like Alice, Scratch and Greenfoot are great ways to introduce novice learners to programming in classrooms, camps and homes. Research in the field of CS Education provides evidence that these environments help effective teachers engage students and lower the barriers to learning programming. However, teachers cannot be available for all students at all times. What if programming environments could support novice learners when they get stuck and no one is available to help? How could this aid student learning and ease teacher workload? In this talk, I will share some of my experiences leading middle school CS outreach through the SPARCS program at NC State, and how those experiences inspire my PhD research on building tools to support novice programmers. I will demonstrate iSnap, a visual, block-based programming environment that automatically generates customized hints and feedback for students on demand. I will share what we have learned about how students seek out and use help when programming, and how that changes when the help comes from a computer. The talk will close with ideas of what the future might hold for novice programming environments and the students who use them.


Thomas Price is a PhD Candidate at North Carolina State University, working in the Center for Educational Informatics. Thomas' research focuses on building technology that adaptively supports students as they learn to program through creative, open-ended assignments. He works to understand how students seek and use help when programming and what role a computer should play in that process. Additionally, Thomas has served for two years as co-president of STARS at NC State, an organization which develops student leadership through CS outreach, peer tutoring, workshops and community building. Thomas leads STARS' middle school CS outreach, with the goal of fostering positive computing experiences for students traditionally underrepresented in the field.