Semantic Transfer in Programming Languages: Exploratory Study of Relative Novices

Tshukudu, E. and Cutts, Q. (2020) Semantic Transfer in Programming Languages: Exploratory Study of Relative Novices. In: 2020 ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research (ICER '20), Dunedin, New Zealand, 11-14 Aug 2020, pp. 307-313. ISBN 9781450370929 (doi: 10.1145/3341525.3387406)

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It is a natural part of a student's computing education to transfer from language to language, hence adopting to a new programming language (PL) quickly is a necessary skill. Prior work in computer science research mainly brings awareness of the success and difficulties that students face when learning new languages. In addition, work that directly relates to PL transfer mainly concerns experienced programmers problem solving in a new language, evidencing plan transfer. We could not find research attempting to devise a model of PL transfer based on code comprehension. We explore this phenomenon in the context of five university students transitioning from procedural Python to object-oriented Java, over a period of 10 weeks. We analyse the results through the lens of a model of second language acquisition using the notion of Semantic transfer and the Mindshift learning theory (MLT). The findings indicate that during the initial learning stages, learners relied mostly on their syntactic matching between Python and Java and subsequent semantic transfer which affected their learning positively on Carryover concepts and negatively on Changed concepts. Students could not transfer their semantic knowledge on concepts they perceived as Novel. An understanding of the transfer process learners go through during a shift can help inform our pedagogy on how to ease the transition process and achieve an effective learning process, and we provide pointers in this direction.

Item Type:Conference Proceedings
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Tshukudu, Ethel and Cutts, Professor Quintin
Authors: Tshukudu, E., and Cutts, Q.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Computing Science

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