Teaching Students to Program Using Visual Environments: Impetus for a Faulty Mental Model?

Edward Dillon, Monica Anderson-Herzog, and Marcus Brown

Volume 5, Issue 1 (August 2014), pp. 28–43


PDF icon Download PDF

  author={Edward Dillon and Monica Anderson-Herzog and Marcus Brown},
  title={Teaching Students to Program Using Visual Environments: Impetus for a Faulty Mental Model?},
  journal={The Journal of Computational Science Education},
Copied to clipboard!

When learning to program, students are typically exposed to either a visual or command line environment. Visual environments are usually adopted to help engage students with programming due to their user-friendly feature capabilities. This article explores the effect of using visual environments such as Integrated Development Environments and syntax-free tools to teach students how to program. Prior studies have shown that some visual environments can have a productive impact on a student's ability to learn and become engaged with programming. However, the functional behavior of visual environments may cause a student to develop a faulty mental model for programming. One possible reason is due to the fixed set of skills that a student acquires upon initial exposure to programming while using a visual environment. Two systematic studies were conducted for exposing students to programming in introductory courses using both visual and command line environments. From the first study, it was found that visual environments can initially impose a lower learning curve for students. However, the second study revealed that visual environments may present a challenge for students to directly transfer their acquired skills to other programming environments after initial exposure.