Putting a spin on programming with experiential learning

Beyond being pocket-sized, portable and highly accessible, the CS1101S is also maintained and improved upon by students – for good reason.

“When students make their first attempt at programming, they know that the tool they are using was built by their seniors,” said Assoc Prof Henz. “They relate to it differently from how they would relate to a commercial software system.”

True enough, that emotional connection is partly why third-year computer science major Lee Hyung Woon invests time and energy to coach junior developers as they take on projects to advance Source Academy.

“As a student, you see many different kinds of learning platforms for programming out there on the internet,” said Hyung Woon. “But [Source Academy] was specifically made for CS1101S. There’s something of a community being built here.”

“Coding” is taboo

While it may be tempting to think of the course as building a community of codersthis is not entirely accurate.

The word “coding” draws a particularly impassioned response from Assoc Prof Henz.

“Coding conveys the opposite of what computer science is,” he said. “If you speak in code, you speak a language that is purposely designed such that it cannot be understood. That’s the opposite of what we need to do when we program.”

That is why the word is semi-banned in his classes. For a generation used to the magnetism and obscurity associated with computer programming – à la falling green code in The Matrix – this may come as a shock.

For Assoc Prof Henz, it is a gradual process of guiding students back to the basics. To that end, Source Academy is designed to – counterintuitively – limit students to an extremely small sublanguage of JavaScript. This encourages them to focus less on acquiring the language and more on building up mental models that are fundamental to programming.

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