Concept–based Analysis of Java Programming Errors among Low, Average and High Achieving Novice Programmers

Philip Olu Jegede, Emmanuel A. Olajubu, Adekunle Olugbenga Ejidokun, Isaac Oluwafemi Elesemoyo
InSITE 2019  •  2019  •  pp. 143
[This Proceedings paper was revised and published in the 2019 issue of the Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice, Volume 18.]

Aim/Purpose: The study examined types of errors made by novice programmers in different Java concepts with students of different ability levels in programming as well as the perceived causes of such errors.

Background: To improve code writing and debugging skills, efforts have been made to taxonomize programming errors and their causes. However, most of the studies employed omnibus approaches, i.e. without consideration of different programing concepts and ability levels of the trainee programmers. Such concepts and ability specific errors identification and classifications are needed to advance appropriate intervention strategy.

Methodology: A sequential exploratory mixed method design was adopted. The sample was an intact class of 124 Computer Science and Engineering undergraduate students grouped into three achievement levels based on first semester performance in a Java programming course. The submitted codes in the course of second semester exercises were analyzed for possible errors, categorized and grouped across achievement level. The resulting data were analyzed using descriptive statistics as well as Pearson product correlation coefficient. Qualitative analyses through interviews and focused group discussion (FGD) were also employed to identify reasons for the committed errors.

Contribution:The study provides a useful concept-based and achievement level specific error log for the teaching of Java programming for beginners.

Findings: The results identified 598 errors with Missing symbols (33%) and Invalid symbols (12%) constituting the highest and least committed errors respec-tively. Method and Classes concept houses the highest number of errors (36%) followed by Other Object Concepts (34%), Decision Making (29%), and Looping (10%). Similar error types were found across ability levels. A significant relationship was found between missing symbols and each of Invalid symbols and Inappropriate Naming. Errors made in Methods and Classes were also found to significantly predict that of Other Object concepts.

Recommendations for Practitioners: To promote better classroom practice in the teaching of Java programming, findings for the study suggests instructions to students should be based on achievement level. In addition to this, learning Java programming should be done with an unintelligent editor.

Recommendations for Researchers: Research could examine logic or semantic errors among novice programmers as the errors analyzed in this study focus mainly on syntactic ones.

Impact on Society: The digital age is code-driven, thus error analysis in programming instruction will enhance programming ability, which will ultimately transform novice programmers into experts, particularly in developing countries where most of the software in use is imported.

Future Research: Researchers could look beyond novice or beginner programmers as codes written by intermediate or even advanced programmers are still not often completely error free.
concept, Java, achievement level, error analysis, programming
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