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EMOTIONS EXPERIENCED BY FIRST-YEAR ENGINEERING STUDENTS DURING PROGRAMMING TASKS
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Computer programming is a difficult undertaking for novices, requiring a lot of patience and persistence. Hence, in a programming class, students experience an array of emotions that may promote or thwart their performance and learning. For instance, frustration may reduce students' motivation to learn programming. In extreme cases, continued frustration may convince students to abandon plans for engineering or computing careers. Even though emotions are crucial for learning, very little is known about how students experience emotions in an introductory programming class.
In this dissertation, I report my investigation of emotions experienced by first-year engineering students during programming tasks, the reasons for experiencing those emotions, and the self-regulation strategies they adopted to cope with those emotions.
I recruited 17 novice first-year engineering students taking an introductory programming class for the first time. Each participant took part in two sessions, which collected multi-modal data: programming task and retrospective think-aloud interview. During the programming task, participants worked on four programming problems for thirty minutes. In this session, I collected five types of data: screen capture, facial expressions, eye-gaze data, electrodermal activity, and survey instruments that assessed emotions and neuroticism. After the programming task, I conducted a short post-task interview to ask follow-up questions. The participants returned three to seven days after the programming task for a retrospective think-aloud interview. During this session, participants viewed a video of their actions during the programming task. After every two minutes of viewing, I paused the video and asked about the emotions they experienced during that segment.
The overarching findings from this study suggest the students experienced frustration most frequently while working on programming problems. Students also experienced multiple emotions because of the same event. For instance, one student reported feeling annoyed because she had made a mistake, but she also experienced joy when she was able to fix the mistake. Findings of this study also suggest that most students tended to persevere despite encountering errors. When they overcame the errors, they experienced joy and pride.
A better understanding of student emotions may help educators design curriculum and pedagogy to help mitigate the effects of negative emotions, and to promote positive emotions. This improved curriculum and pedagogy may eventually help students maximize their learning and performance in programming courses. Subsequently, student motivation and interest in programming may also be increased by using this improved and enhanced curriculum and pedagogy.