From Alice to BlueJ: a transition to Java
Rey, Jeanette S.
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The teaching of introductory courses in computing has seen several changes over the last decade. These changes not only affected the curricula when the emphasis was shifted from Imperative (also Procedural) to Object-Oriented Programming (OOP) but also reignited debates regarding which is the better programming language. Furthermore, the shift in emphasis also has encountered challenges with the object-oriented pedagogy. More recently, the assessment procedure for how students are learning object-oriented concepts has been given attention. When the programming language Java was adopted to teach object-oriented programming, it was not without difficulties. Various studies cited the development environment for Java, which was designed for professional programmers and its complex syntax structures as the main source of Java’s difficulties (Kolling & Rosenberg 2001). The studies were not only limited to identifying the problems of teaching and learning Java but they also identified solutions. One of these included the creation of programming tools and environment to help novice programmers learn object-oriented concepts effectively. Among the integrated development environments created for teaching object-oriented programming using Java is BlueJ. Another programming tool for teaching object-oriented programming is Alice. The technology of animated program visualization keeps the focus on objects while teaching about behaviour and state (Dann et al 2003). The study concerns how the different programming tools help students in learning object-oriented concepts. One is classified as a text-based tool, BlueJ, and the other is graphical-based tool, Alice. There are three main questions for this study: 1. Does the process of learning object-oriented concepts using graphical-based tools differ from using text-based tools? 2. Do graphical-based tools support text-based tools in learning object-oriented concepts? 3. Do graphical-based tools offer more help in understanding object-oriented concepts than text-based tools? To answer the questions, the researcher conducted a survey whereby two sets of questionnaires were distributed to the students of Robert Gordon module entitled Object-Oriented Programming Techniques (CM1011). The student respondents found significant difference in the use of the graphical-based and text-based programming tools in understanding the following object-oriented concepts: Message Passing, Encapsulation and Polymorphism. The data gathered were also indicative that a graphical-based programming tool like Alice is helpful in learning object-oriented concepts with the use of a text-based programming tool like BlueJ. Whether graphical tools like Alice help more in understanding object-oriented concepts than text-based tools like BlueJ was inconclusive. The initial study suggests that there was no significant difference with students’ confidence in learning the various object-oriented concepts using the programming tools. The student respondents appeared to recognise that both programming tools are useful in learning various object-oriented concepts. However, it seems that they expected Alice to be a more sophisticated animation tool and that the animations produced would be of a cinematic calibre. The study aspires to contribute to the improvement of the object-oriented pedagogy. Specifically, it aims to contribute in the development of teaching methodologies for object-oriented programming and then create learning strategies for object-oriented programming and, not to forget, make the assessment of object-oriented programming more effective and suitable. Alongside the improvement of object-oriented programming pedagogy, the study also tries to make the computing course curricula more appropriate and flexible with the use of the various programming tools. Suggestions on how the study can be made more rigorous have been listed including use of additional data gathering instruments and methodology. Also, recommendations on how else the questions can be written were incorporated.