S3-SP5-1 - Copying Can Be Good: How Students View Imitation as a Tool in Learning to Program

3. Research Full Paper
Carol Zander1 , Lynda Thomas2, Jan Erik Moström3, Anna Eckerdal4
1 University of Washington-Bothell
2 Aberystwyth University
3 ´Umeå University
4 Uppsala University

Student ‘copying' is often considered negatively as thoughts of plagiarism come to mind. Previously, we investigated the ways that instructors expect to use copying and imitation positively in their teaching. In this paper, we follow up that study by focusing on the student perspective and explore the ways in which students see copying and imitating as positive tools in learning to program (both at an introductory level and through more advanced learning of algorithms, etc.).

In a qualitative research study, using semi-structured interviews, students were asked about how they use copying positively - their goals when they copy, how they go about it, how they view the experience of copying, and results beyond simply fulfilling their immediate goals.

When comparing student results with the previous study, it was noted that there is some level of agreement between instructors and students about how copying can be useful for learning to program. There is also some degree of mismatch between instructor and student views. Students did not report imitating instructors’ approaches to learning and sometimes were unsure about whether they were supposed to copy the materials that they were given. This leads to some teaching suggestions in terms of instructors being more explicit in their attitude to this type of ‘legitimate’ copying and imitation.