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Novice programmers and the problem description effect.

Bouvier, Dennis; Lovellette, Ellie; Matta, John; Alshaigy, Bedour; Becker, Brett A.; Craig, Michelle; Jackova, Jana; McCartney, Robert; Sanders, Kate; Zarb, Mark


Dennis Bouvier

Ellie Lovellette

John Matta

Bedour Alshaigy

Brett A. Becker

Michelle Craig

Jana Jackova

Robert McCartney

Kate Sanders


It is often debated whether a problem presented in a straightforward minimalist fashion is better, or worse, for learning than the same problem presented with a real-life or concrete context. The presentation, contextualization, or problem description has been well studied over several decades in disciplines such as mathematics education and psychology; however, little has been published in the field of computing education. In psychology it has been found that not only the presence of context, but the type of context can have dramatic results on problem success. In mathematics education it has been demonstrated that there are non-mathematical factors in problem presentation that can affect success in solving the problem and learning. The contextual background of a problem can also impact cognitive load, which should be considered when evaluating the effects of context. Further, it has been found that regarding cognitive load, computer science has unique characteristics compared to other disciplines, with the consequence that results from other disciplines may not apply to computer science, thus requiring investigation within computer science. This paper presents a multi-national, multi-institutional study of the effects of problem contextualization on novice programmer success in a typical CS1 exercise.


BOUVIER, D., LOVELLETTE, E., MATTA, J., ALSHAIGY, B., BECKER, B.A., CRAIG, M., JACKOVA, J., MCCARTNEY, R., SANDERS, K. and ZARB, M. 2016. Novice programmers and the problem description effect. In Proceedings of the Innovation and technology in computer science education on working group reports 2016 (ITiCSE-WGR '16), 9-13 July 2016, Arequipa, Peru. New York: ACM [online], pages 103-118. Available from:

Conference Name Innovation and technology in computer science education on working group reports 2016 (ITiCSE-WGR '16)
Conference Location Arequipa, Peru
Start Date Jul 9, 2016
End Date Jul 13, 2016
Acceptance Date Feb 29, 2016
Online Publication Date Jul 9, 2016
Publication Date Jul 9, 2016
Deposit Date Mar 13, 2017
Publicly Available Date Mar 13, 2017
Publisher Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
Pages 103-118
Keywords Context; Novice programmers; CS1
Public URL


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