F3-AS2-3 - Experiences of Assessment in Introductory Programming From the Perspective of Non-Computer Science Majors

3. Research Full Paper
Emma Riese1 , Stefan Stenbom1
1 KTH Royal Institute of Technology

This Research, Full Paper presents a study of how engineering students, non-computer science (CS) majors, experienced the assessments during their first programming course (CS1). Naturally, we as instructors and course designers would like to facilitate learning among our students and make fair assessments. During the CS1 courses given for non-CS majors at our university, the students would be assessed on their programming skills and concept knowledge on multiple occasions. Typically, students need to complete 4-6 lab assignments, pass an exam, and complete an individual project. The instructor in charge of each course, the course coordinator, design all assignments as well as the grading criteria and is typically also responsible for the assessment of students’ skills and knowledge. However, since these courses have a large number of students (~200) the assessments are mainly done by teaching assistants (TAs). The purpose of this paper is to explore how students experience the assessment situations in CS1 courses. 

Eleven semi-structured interviews were performed with engineering students who enrolled in one of four CS1 courses. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis. The results indicate that the students experienced the individual project to be authentic, a fair and reasonable way to assess their programming skills. By contrast, the exam was experienced as inauthentic and focusing on less important skills such as knowing syntax by heart. The students put lots of trust in their TAs, but experienced that the grading and amount of feedback they received, differed depending on the TA. The hierarchy, in which the course coordinator instructed the TAs on how to conduct the assessment, was not clearly visible and some students even viewed their TAs to be more qualified to grade their assignments than the course coordinators. It was, however, clear to the students that the course coordinator was also the course designer and the one who constructed the exam.

Keywords: Assessment, Students’ experience, CS1