“Coding strip” uses comic strip to teach coding

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Researchers have found a way to use comic strips to teach coding to novice learners.

Coding strips utilize comics to present programming concepts in a more accessible way. They chose comics because it is a medium well-known for its ability to explain complicated concepts and processes effectively through visual storytelling.

This work is different from others that have looked at using comics to introduce coding as it provides corresponding code. Providing code allows novice learners to see how it can map to meaningful action in their lives. This helps them understand the concept and code in an intuitive manner.

“There are a lot of challenges associated with engaging students who are learning to code because they find it to be abstract and difficult,” Sangho Suh, the lead author in this research and a PhD student in Waterloo’s David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science, explained. “Our work shows that teachers can use coding strips to address this challenge.”

Coding strip
The researchers first studied how to design coding strips. They identified programming concepts and designed coding strips to formulate the design process. They then created a design board, an empty canvas with five sections corresponding to the steps in the design process. The five sections are: list important properties of a programming concept, select one property and write stories that illustrate it, choose one of the stories and write its corresponding code, identify an appropriate set of design patterns for comics, and use them to produce the comic strip. 

The researchers then conducted two design workshops with a group of undergraduate and graduate students, and the other with high school computer science teachers, to evaluate the design process and tools, and gauge their interest in using coding strips. 

“Participants praised the potential of coding strips to engage, motivate, and interest students in learning to code,” said Edith Law, co-author and an associate professor in the Cheriton School of Computer Science. 

This study, Coding Strip: A Pedagogical Tool for Teaching and Learning Programming Concepts through Comics, was recently presented by Suh at the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing.

In the follow-up study, Suh taught a Waterloo undergraduate computer science course and tested four use cases of coding strips. They include using coding strips to introduce concepts and codes, review, and practice coding. The researchers found that students thoroughly enjoyed learning with coding strips and benefitted from these use cases in various ways. This work, Using Comics to Introduce and Reinforce Programming Concepts in CS1, was recently accepted and will be presented at a premier computing education conference, ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education.

The researchers set up a coding strip website to make coding strips, design tools, and publications available.

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