SI Seminar by Matthias Hauswirth

Talk: Rainfall and LuCE: The Difficulty of Learning to Program

Thu, Dec 3, 2020

Matthias Hauswirth presenting “Rainfall and LuCE: The Difficulty of Learning to Program” at the USI Software Institute.


Most of us at SI teach or assist in courses where we ask students to program. But learning to program is surprisingly hard. The so-called “rainfall” studies have shown that even in top-tier universities only a small fraction of students succeed in solving very simple programming problems.

In our LuCE lab we aim to shed light on this: Why is programming so hard? Which aspects are hard? And what can we do to help? In this seminar we will provide a brief glimpse of our lab.

The bulk of the seminar, though, we will use for something else. And for that we need you to do some preparatory work. We would like us all to reflect on how each of us designs and evaluates assignments in which we ask students to program. To prepare for this, we ask you to be a student for a brief moment, and to write a small program to solve a variant of the “rainfall” problem. Pick one of three languages: Java, JavaScript, or Python. Then follow the corresponding invite to get the starter project and instructions (in the README) for your language. Please submit your solution by Wednesday night.

In the seminar we will then discuss the design of this assignment, the infrastructure we used to create and assess it, and the specific (anonymised) outcomes. We will open up the discussion on tips, tricks, and pitfalls for such assignments, which we hope can contribute to shared techniques and tools we can all use in our teaching.

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