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Conceptual models and individual cognitive learning styles in teaching recursion to novices

Abstract of Doctoral Thesis

Cheng-Chih Wu

The University of Texas at Austin, 1993
Supervisors: Ralph W. Cain and Nell B. Dale

This study investigated how different types of conceptual models and cognitive learning styles influence novice programmers when learning recursion. A pretest-posttest, 2 X 2 (conceptual models X learning styles) factorial experimental design was implemented in order to study the problem. Two hundred thirty-seven students enrolled in an introductory computer science course at a major southwest research university served as the subjects for this study. Subjects were randomly assigned to either an abstract model group or a concrete model group and the groups were of approximately equal size. Different conceptual models (abstract or concrete) were used to present recursion to the two model groups. Within each model group, subjects were identified as either an abstract learner or a concrete learner based on their scores on the scrambled Kolb's Learning-Style Inventory 1985. A posttest and two retention tests were administered after the treatment to compare students' performance in different groups. A pretest administered prior to the treatment was used to equate the variance caused by students' prior knowledge in the statistical analysis. The statistical procedure of two-way ANCOVA was employed to analyze all of the performance data.

The findings of this study are: Concrete conceptual models were better than abstract conceptual models in teaching recursion to novice programmers. However, the teaching effects weakened several weeks after classroom instruction. Novice programmers with abstract learning styles performed better than those with concrete learning styles when learning recursion. Finally, abstract learners did not necessarily benefit more from abstract conceptual models, and concrete learners did not necessarily benefit more from concrete conceptual models.

A replication study with a longer treatment period that covers more aspects of recursive programming is recommended for future research. Additional research needs to be conducted to better understand students' mental models of recursion. Furthermore, future research should investigate how the other dimension of Kolb's learning styles (i.e., active-reflective) relates to the instructional methods provided. It is also recommended that the relationship between the characteristic of learning tasks (or domains) and the matching of learning styles with conceptual models be investigated

Copyright (c) 1993 by Cheng-Chih Wu, Ph.D. Presentation of this material by the Department of Computer Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin was made possible under a limited license grant from the author, who has retained all copyrights in the works.



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