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  1. Research efforts tried to expose students to security topics early in the undergraduate CS curriculum. However, such efforts are rarely adopted in practice and remain less effective when it comes to writing secure code. In our prior work, we identified key issues with the how students code and grouped them into six themes: (a) Knowledge of C, (b) Understanding compiler and OS messages, (c) Utilization of resources, (d) Knowledge of memory, (e) Awareness of unsafe functions, and (f) Understanding of security topics. In this work, we aim to understand students' knowledge about each theme and how that knowledge affects their secure coding practices. Thus, we propose a modified SOLO taxonomy for the latter five themes. We apply the taxonomy to the coding interview data of 21 students from two US R1 universities. Our results suggest that most students have limited knowledge of each theme. We also show that scoring low in these themes correlates with why students fail to write secure code and identify possible vulnerabilities.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  2. Incremental development is the process of writing a small snippet of code and testing it before moving on. For students in introductory programming courses, the value of incremental development is especially higher as they may suffer from more syntax errors, lack the proficiency to address complicated bugs, and may be more prone to frustration when struggling to correct code. However, to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions that aim to teach programming processes such as incremental development, we need to develop measures to assess such processes. In this paper, we present a way to measure incremental development. By qualitatively analyzing 15 student coding interviews, we identified common behaviors in the programming process that relate to incremental development. We then leveraged a dataset of over 1000 development sessions -- about 52,000 code snapshots at compilation time -- to automatically detect the common behaviors identified in our qualitative analysis. Finally, we crafted a formal metric, called the ``Measure of Incremental Development’' (MID), to quantify how effectively a student used incremental development during a programming session. The MID detects common non-incremental development patterns such as excessive debugging after large additions of code to automatically assess a sequence of snapshots. The MID aligns with humanmore »evaluations of incrementality with over 80% accuracy. Our metric enables new research directions and interventions focused on improving students' development practices.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available January 1, 2024
  3. Often, security topics are only taught in advanced computer science (CS) courses. However, most US R1 universities do not require students to take these courses to complete an undergraduate CS degree. As a result, students can graduate without learning about computer security and secure programming practices. To gauge students’ knowledge and skills of secure programming, we conducted a coding interview with 21 students from two R1 universities in the United States. All the students in our study had at least taken Computer Systems or an equivalent course. We then analyzed the students’ approach to safe programming practices, such as avoiding unsafe functions like gets and strcpy, and basic security knowledge, such as writing code that assumes user inputs can be malicious. Our results suggest that students lack the key fundamental skills to write secure programs. For example, students rarely pay attention to details, such as compiler warnings, and often do not read programming language documentation with care. Moreover, some students’ understanding of memory layout is cursory, which is crucial for writing secure programs. We also found that some students are struggling with even the basics of C programming, even though it is the main language taught in Computer Systems courses.
  4. Novice programmers often struggle with code understanding and debugging. Live Programming environments visualize the runtime values of a program each time it is modified to provide immediate feedback, which help with tracing the program execution. This paper presents the use of a Live Programming tool in a CS1 course to better understand the impact of Live Programming on novices’ learning metrics and their perceptions of the tool. We conducted a within-subjects study at a large public university in a CS1 course in Python (N=237) where students completed tasks in a lab setting, in some cases with a Live Programming environment, and in some cases without. Through post-lab surveys and open-ended feedback, we measured how well students understood the material and how students perceived the programming environment. To understand the impact of Live Programming, we compared the collected data for students who used Live Programming with the data for students who did not. We found that while learning outcomes were the same regardless of whether Live Programming was used or not, students who used the Live Programming tool completed some code tracing tasks faster. Furthermore, students liked the Live Programming environment more, and rated it as more helpful for their learning.
  5. One of the goals of computing education research is to document the potential strengths and weaknesses of contemporary teaching methods in computing. Live coding has recently gained attention as one of the best practices for teaching programming. To offer a more comprehensive understanding of the existing body of research about live coding, we reviewed papers in computing education research that investigated the value of live coding in an educational setting. We categorized each paper based on (1) how it defines live coding, (2) whether its version of live coding could be considered active learning, (3) the type of study conducted, (4) types of data collected and the data analysis methods used, (5) evidence provided for the effectiveness of live coding, (6) reported benefits and drawbacks of live coding, and (7) reported theoretical frameworks used to explain the basis, effects or goals of live coding. We found that although live coding has been recommended as one of the best practices for teaching programming, there is a lack of empirical evidence to support claims about the effectiveness of live coding on student learning. Finally, we discuss the implications of our findings and suggest future research directions that could develop a more holisticmore »understanding of this pedagogical technique.« less