T6-FY1-4 - The Role of Source Code Vocabulary in Programming Teaching and Learning

2. Research-to-Practice Full Paper
Marcos Nascimento1 , Eliane Ara├║jo1, Dalton Serey1, Jorge Figueiredo1
1 Department of Computer and Systems, Federal University of Campina Grande, Campina Grande, PB BR

This full paper, categorized as Research-to-Practice, presents an investigation on the role of source code vocabulary in introductory programming learning practices. According to software engineering literature, source code vocabulary is a fundamental aspect of software quality as it contributes to software readability and eases maintenance and evolution tasks. Furthermore, some studies show that identifier naming and comments in the code tend to use terms that reflect the software problem domain specification and can be used, for instance, to localize feature. In this paper, we build upon this knowledge of software engineering and investigate how we can take advantage of it in computer science education, specially on the teaching of programming. We conducted a twofold empirical study in an introductory programming course to investigate: (1) How to give automated feedback about identifier naming, aiming to improve software readability, and (2) To what extent source code vocabulary reflects problem specification comprehension, which is crucial to effective programming problem-solving. In the first study, we found that 51.7% of the students improved their source code vocabulary, after receiving such feedback. In the second study, the results showed that students tend to manage to better comprehend the programming problem being solved when their code identifier names are connected to the related description. It is a promising indicative that we can use this information to assess the problem requirements comprehension, which is a fundamental step in the programming problem-solving cycle. The main contribution of this paper is to shed light on the source code vocabulary and promote its role in the programming teaching and learning scenario. We present some evidence that students' source code vocabulary is a rich information source about their understanding and we can use it to produce formative feedback.