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Communications of the ACM

A diagnosis of beginning programmers' misconceptions of BASIC programming statements


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In the process of learning a computer language, beginning programmers may develop mental models for the language. A mental model refers to the user's conception of the “invisible” information processing that occurs inside the computer between input and output. In this study, 30 undergraduate students learned BASIC through a self-paced, mastery manual and simultaneously had hands-on access to an Apple II computer. After instruction, the students were tested on their mental models for the execution of each of nine BASIC statements. The results show that beginning programmers—although able to perform adequately on mastery tests in program generation—possessed a wide range of misconceptions concerning the statements they had learned. This paper catalogs beginning programmers' conceptions of “what goes on inside the computer” for each of nine BASIC statements.

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