Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Programming Survey

The refined problem that interests me concerns the rhetorical and media-specific functions of the texts that people used to learn (or turn away from) programming computers, particularly (based on initial responses) the OEM manuals that were packaged with early personal computers that contain programming examples and language tutorials (for example, The Applesoft Tutorial that accompanied Apple //+ computers from 1979-1982). A cursory look at online discussion threads and polls reveals that many people consider themselves self-taught, or starting programming at home long before receiving any formal instruction at school. These resources can be analyzed to reveal the computer models used to learn programming. Sometimes they mention using OEM manuals, magazines or other texts; however, a new survey and interview process needs to be created that focuses on discovering these texts and how they were used. Use a blog posting to host the survey and its responses, or some other hosted, on line survey instrument. Invite participants of prior discussions and surveys to participate in the new survey (eventually; for now just invite friends, coworkers, and colleagues). Interview candidates can then be selected from the survey respondents. Please answer these questions:

Have you ever written computer programs?

Do you remember how old you were when you started programming?
(Or what grade you were in?)

Can you recall the setting of your first programming experiences? (Was it at school, at home, at a friend's, some other family member, another place?)

Did you work alone or with other people?

And what model did you use? (Was it made by Apple, Commodore, IBM, Tandy, Texas Instruments?)

What was the programming language?

Do you remember if you used any books that were with the computer?

What do you remember about them?

Did they contain programs that you typed in?

Did they contain pictures?

Did you read the text?

Ask similar questions for those who respond negatively to the first question, and did not program computers. They still will recall the first places they remember using computers, their approximate age, and perhaps less clearly, the model. The researcher (or proxy) can guess at which texts they may have used, and for certain models, the fact of their absence. Thus I can collect information about the negative effects of bundled texts for particular models and particular people who never became programmers. Please answer these questions:

If you did not write programs, do you remember how old you were when you first used a computer?

Can you recall the setting of your first computer using experiences?

Were you alone or with other people?

Do you remember what type of computer it was?

Do you remember using any books were with the computer?

Do your remember anything about them?

In connecting this work with mainstream research in teaching and learning computer programming, I am hypothesizing that certain texts may impose "more guidance" than their absence or other texts during the unmediated discovery of the computer's programming possibilities, and that certain texts may provide the function of the "metacourse" recommended by Perkins, Schwartz, and Simmons for novice programmers. Texts may also function like a partner in the "pair programming" research discussed by Denner and Werner without the authoritarian auspices of an adult teacher. Also consider how media-specific features of colorful, spiral-bound printed texts such as
The Applesoft Tutorialdifferentiate their rhetorical and practical functions from other types of texts, such as browser-based resources or help features built into Integrated Development Environments.


  • Bogost, Ian. "Pascal Spoken Here: Learning about Learning Programming from the Apple ][." [Weblog entry.] Ian Bogost Blog. 19 Feb 2010. ( 12 Oct 2010.
  • Brin, David. "Why Johnny Can't Code." Salon. Salon, 14 Sept 2006. ( 3 Oct 2010.
  • Cummings, Robert E. "Coding with power: Toward a rhetoric of computer coding and composition." Computers and Composition 23.4 (2006): p. 430-443. Print.
  • Denner, Jill, and Linda Werner. "Computer Programming in Middle School: How Pairs Respond to Challenges." Journal of Educational Computing Research 37.2 (2007): 131-50. Print.
  • Mayer, Richard E. Introduction. Teaching and Learning Computer Programming: Multiple Research Perspectives. Ed. Richard E. Mayer. Hillsdale, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1988. Print.
  • Perkins, D.N, Steve Schwartz, and Rebecca Simmons. "Instructional Strategies for the Problems of Novice Programmers." Teaching and Learning Computer Programming: Multiple Research Perspectives. Ed. Richard E. Mayer. Hillsdale, N.J: L. Erlbaum Associates, 1988. Print.
  • Vodounon, Maurice A. "Exploring the relationship between modularization ability and performance in the C programming language: the case of novice programmers and expert programmers." The Free Library. 22 June 2006. ( the relationship between modularization ability and...-a0144705087) 10 Oct 2010.

Participate in the survey by copying the appropriate set of questions into a comment (programmer or nonprogrammer).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Refining Research Questions

Searching for two to three research papers to find the gaps:

  • Brin, David. (2006). Why Johnny Can't Code. Salon. 9/14/2006.

  • Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and underused: Computers in the Classroom. Harvard U. Press.

  • Cummings, Robert E. (2006). Coding with power: Toward a rhetoric of computer coding and composition. Computers and Composition v. 23 no.4, p. 430-433.

  • Denner, Jill. "The Girls Creating Games Program: An Innovative Approach to Integrating Technology into Middle School." Meridian: a Middle School Computer Technologies Journal Winter 2007. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Denner, Jill, and Linda Werner. "Computer Programming in Middle School: How Pairs Respond to Challenges." Journal of Educational Computing Research 37.2 (2007): 131-50. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • "From codex to code: programming and the composition classroom." Computers and Composition 16.3 (1999): 319-436. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Ge, Xun, Michael K. Thomas, and Barbara A. Greene. "Technology-Rich Ethnography for Examining the Transition to Authentic Problem-Solving in a High School Computer Programming Class." Journal of Educational Computing Research 34.4 (2006): 319-52. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Gillespie, C.W. (2004). Seymour Papert’s vision for early childhood education? A descriptive study of preschoolers and kindergarteners in discovery-based, Logo-rich classrooms. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 6(1).

  • Hoar, Nancy. "Conquering the myth: expository writing and computer programming." College Composition and Communication 38 (1987): 93-5. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Kocian, Lisa. (2010). One computer for every student. Boston Globe. 2/11/2010.

  • Lau, Wilfred W. F., and Allan H. K. Yuen. "Exploring the effects of gender and learning styles on computer programming performance: implications for programming pedagogy." British Journal of Educational Technology 40.4 (2009): 696-712. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Lynn, Kathleen-M., Chad Raphael, and Karin Olefsky. "Bridging the Gender Gap in Computing: An Integrative Approach to Content Design for Girls." Journal of Educational Computing Research 28.2 (2003): 143-62. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • McAllister, Neil. (2008). Should computer programming be mandatory for U.S. students? Infoworld. 10/2/2008.

  • McKenna, Peter. "Transparent and opaque boxes: do women and men have different computer programming psychologies and styles?." Computers & Education 35.1 (2000): 37-49. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • National Center for Education Statistics. (2005). Computer Technology in the Public School Classroom: Teacher Perspectives.

  • Panell, Chris. "Teaching Computer Programming as a Language." Tech Directions 62.8 (2003): 26-7. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Solomon, Justin. "Programming as a Second Language." Learning and Leading with Technology 32.4 (2005): 34-9. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Sutton, Rosemary E. (1991). Equity and Computers in the Schools: A Decade of Research. Review of Educational Research. Vol. 61, No. 4 (Winter, 1991), pp. 475-503.

  • Weinstein, Peter. "Computer programming revisited." Technology & Learning 19.8 (1999): 38-42. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

  • Werner, Linda, and Jill Denning. "Pair Programming in Middle School: What Does It Look Like?." Journal of Research on Technology in Education 42.1 (2009): 29-49. Education Full Text. Web. 4 Oct. 2010.

The Brin article is an opinion piece but hits the subject directly, asking why BASIC or some other language is not provided on home computers for children to type in sample programs found in their math textbooks. He declares that “Microsoft and Apple and all the big-time education-computerizing reformers of the MIT Media Lab are failing, miserably. For all of their high-flown education initiatives (like the "$100 laptop"), they seem bent on providing information consumption devices, not tools that teach creative thinking and technological mastery.” The opinion piece by McAllister attacks the stereotype of the programmer as nerdy, male social misfit by appealing to the rationale responding to the new needs of the global marketplace. His argument is that baseline computer literacy, including programming fundamentals, should be a requirement: “Make no mistake; the days when knowledge of computer programming was a ticket to a golden future are over. In today's globalized job market, computer literacy should be seen as a baseline skill for the U.S. workforce, not a differentiator.” The Wikipedia entry for “Educational Programming Languages” fills in many details to bring things up to the present. Its external links includes this interesting news story about the Scratch language. A recent article by Lisa Kocian in the Boston Globe describes technology initiatives aimed at providing “one computer for every student,” noting that “Maine is at the forefront of technology in the schools, with all public school students in the seventh and eighth grades receiving a laptop computer.” However, the article does not describe what the children will be doing with the computers, besides emphasizing the need for teacher buy in and training. Nor does the U.S. government report on teacher perspectives of the adequacy of computer technology in public school classrooms, although it does introduce some statistics. Nancy Hoar wrote a short piece in 1987 linking expository writing and programming. The most promising article so far is by Robert Cummings, who “explores the connection between computer programming (coding) and traditional composition.” He does not directly cite any quantitative or qualitative research, though (I sent him an email asking for more information). The article by Lynn, Raphael and Olefsky does involve empirical findings, but its focus is studying the gender gap in computer use in general, not programming in particular. Peter McKenna's article directly picks up on Turkle's work, but does not appear to contain any empirical data. Lau and Yuen's article does contain research findings, but its focus on gender in Hong Kong schools strays from my interest in the current state of programming instruction in general in the U.S. Denner's article on girls creating a computer game contains research data but is still not in the direct sphere of texts and technology studies. Her article with Linda Werner on how pairs of girls respond to programming challenges gets closer still, containing qualitative empirical data and citing Turkle, and may be transportable into the composition studies area as a way to implement Cummings' starter ideas. See also their 2009 article that contains coded transcripts. Then there is the article by Ge, Thomas and Greene that almost enunciates my original research idea. “Technology-Rich Ethnography for Examining the Transition to Authentic Problem-Solving in a High School Computer Programming Class” states in its abstract, “our findings lend support to the argument that teachers in high school computer programming classes should incorporate the following features in their curricula: open-ended problem solving, real-world clients, group work, student autonomy and ample opportunities for student creative expression. ”

My sense from the first iteration of the research question postings was that my topics did not have clear connections to texts and technology, despite the fact that I was invoking theorists whose work we read in various T&T courses, in particular Sherry Turkle. Therefore, I spent some time this weekend looking for journal articles dealing with the intersection of computer programming and English composition. In the process I found a number of qualitative research studies looking at differences in programming styles between men and women, most of which cited Turkle. Robert E. Cummings published an interesting article in 2006, “Coding with power: Toward a rhetoric of computer coding and composition” that explicitly ties programming, as a form of composition targeted towards machine readers, to composition targeted towards human readers. Besides making a theoretical argument linking programming and composition by presenting a parallel of the rhetorical triangle for addressing machines, he offers practical tips for how to implement his ideas in a class. I contacted him to see whether he has indeed enacted his idea in any of his classes, and if so, if he tried to measure anything, or whether he knows of any external studies conducted to test his hypotheses or that are related to them. But I when it comes down to want-to-do-ability, I still wish to focus on improving our understanding of casual, everyday programming as it exists in America, how children are being exposed to programming instruction, in order to meditate upon the art of programming for humanities scholars and as a subject for texts and technology theorists.

Part I: Framing the Problem and Considering the Context

The problem in which I am interested is that the sense of urgency and value in teaching computer programming as a basic skill to American youth appears to have diminished from the late 1980s and early 1990s when Turkle was doing her ethnographic studies of programming styles. The disciplinary and professional communities that are interested in this problem may of course be technology educators, but I believe the problem is also relevant to ethnographers of technology as well as texts and technology theorists because programming computers is one of the quintessential acts of post-literate culture. Conversational partners include those like the later Turkle who argue that deep structure cognitive styles have been replaced by mastery of surface applications, as well as those who continue to rally for the importance of the former. My purpose for conducting this research is to explore the current diffusion of programming as an everyday skill in the United States, demonstrating its value for non-professional as well a professional achievement, with the hope that it will influence policy and practice to help America regain its competitive edge in the global economy.

Part II: Writing Focused Research Questions for your Problem and Context

  1. What exposure to computer programming instruction did Americans who were the first generation to grow up with personal computers have in their schooling? What about subsequent generations, up to the present? This may entail both quantitative measures (how much exposure? Over what period of time?) and qualitative details about what was learned (different languages) and how this knowledge was applied (for example, in programming contests and after-school activities).

  2. In what ways and to what extent have they written software in a non-professional context, and do they currently do so?

  3. In what ways, if any, do they feel that their programming experience helps them solve everyday problems, come up with novel ideas, and communicate their ideas more effectively?

Part III: Choosing Research Methods to Answer Your Questions

  1. Survey (web-based), interview small number of survey participants from each generation

  2. Survey (web-based), interview small number of survey participants

  3. Interview small number of survey participants

Assessing Your Plan

Do-ability/feasibility: The availability of web-based survey tools and services makes the initial survey feasible and the population is accessible on line, with the exception of the current generation, which is children in school now. While I can speak the language as a professional programmer and long time technology hobbyist, I need more training in interview and data collection skills.

Should-do-ability: My initial searching has not found any research directly addressing these questions. The topic is significant based on the presence of theoretical articles and opinion pieces that address the current state of general programming instruction in schools and the its perceived advantages. There do not seem to be any risks to participants or repercussions for me or the research participants.

Want-to-do-ability: While my personal interest has been shifting the more I get to know the disciplinary boundaries of this program, as long as I can keep relevant linkages I care deeply about promoting general programming skills and am personally interested in talking to people my age about their experience of learning to use computers.