Software Quality and Security in Teachers' and Students' Codes When Learning a New Programming Language

Shlomi Boutnaru, Arnon Hershkovitz
Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning  •  Volume 11  •  2015  •  pp. 123-147
In recent years, schools (as well as universities) have added cyber security to their computer science curricula. This topic is still new for most of the current teachers, who would normally have a standard computer science background. Therefore the teachers are trained and then teaching their students what they have just learned. In order to explore differences in both populations’ learning, we compared measures of software quality and security between high-school teachers and students. We collected 109 source files, written in Python by 18 teachers and 31 students, and engineered 32 features, based on common standards for software quality (PEP 8) and security (derived from CERT Secure Coding Standards). We use a multi-view, data-driven approach, by (a) using hierarchical clustering to bottom-up partition the population into groups based on their code-related features and (b) building a decision tree model that predicts whether a student or a teacher wrote a given code (resulting with a LOOCV kappa of 0.751). Overall, our findings suggest that the teachers’ codes have a better quality than the students’ – with a sub-group of the teachers, mostly males, demonstrate better coding than their peers and the students – and that the students’ codes are slightly better secured than the teachers’ codes (although both populations show very low security levels). The findings imply that teachers might benefit from their prior knowledge and experience, but also emphasize the lack of continuous involvement of some of the teachers with code-writing. Therefore, findings shed light on computer science teachers as lifelong learners. Findings also highlight the difference between quality and security in today’s programming paradigms. Implications for these findings are discussed.
cyber security, code metrics, software quality, software security, teachers’ learning, data mining
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