Smartphones, Studio-Based Learning, and Scaffolding: Helping Novices Learn to Program

Reardon, Susan and Tangney, Brendan (2014) Smartphones, Studio-Based Learning, and Scaffolding: Helping Novices Learn to Program. Trans. Comput. Educ., 14 (4). 23:1-23:15. ISSN 1946-6226


This article describes how smartphones, studio-based learning, and extensive scaffolding were used in combination in the teaching of a freshman Introduction to Programming course. To reduce cognitive overload, a phased approach was followed in introducing programming concepts and development environments, beginning with the visual programming environment Scratch and culminating with Java development for Android smartphones. Studio-based learning, a pedagogical approach long established in the fields of architecture and design education, was used as the basis for a collaborative social constructivist—and constructionist—approach to learning. Smartphones offered students the potential to develop applications for a context that is both immediate and clearly relevant to the ways in which they utilize and interact with technology. The research was carried out over three full academic years and included 53 student participants. An exploratory case study methodology was used to investigate the efficacy of the approach in helping to overcome the barriers faced by novice programmers. The findings indicate that the approach has merit. The students were motivated and engaged by the learning experience and were able to develop sophisticated applications that incorporated images, sound, arrays, and event handling. There is evidence that aspects of the studio-based learning approach, such as the scope that it gave students to innovate and the open feedback during student presentations, provided a learning environment that was motivating. Overall, the combination of smartphones, studio-based learning, and appropriate scaffolding offers an effective way to teach introductory programming courses.

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