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Toward a debugging pedagogy: helping students learn to get unstuck with physical computing systems

Colin Hennessy Elliott (Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA and Department of Teaching, Learning and Curriculum, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, USA)
Alexandra Gendreau Chakarov (Department of Computer Science, San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USA)
Jeffrey B. Bush (Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado, USA)
Jessie Nixon (Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)
Mimi Recker (Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)

Information and Learning Sciences

ISSN: 2398-5348

Article publication date: 6 January 2023

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine how a middle school science teacher, new to programming, supports students in learning to debug physical computing systems consisting of programmable sensors and data displays.

Design/methodology/approach

This case study draws on data collected during an inquiry-oriented instructional unit in which students learn to collect, display and interpret data from their surrounding environment by wiring and programming a physical computing system. Using interaction analysis, the authors analyzed video recordings of one teacher’s (Gabrielle) pedagogical moves as she supported students in debugging their systems as they drew upon a variety of embodied, material and social resources.

Findings

This study presents Gabrielle’s debugging interactional grammar, highlighting the pedagogical possibilities for supporting students in systematic ways, providing affective support (e.g. showing them care and encouragement) and positioning herself as a learner with the students. Gabrielle’s practice, and therefore her pedagogy, has the potential to support students in becoming better debuggers on their own in the future.

Originality/value

While much of the prior work on learning to debug focuses on learner actions and possible errors, this case focuses on an educator’s debugging pedagogy centered on the educator debugging with the learners. This case study illustrates the need for educators to exhibit deft facilitation, vulnerability and orchestration skills to support student development of their own process for and agency in debugging.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors deeply thank Gabrielle, and her students, for giving the team the gift of thinking with their stories. The authors are also in debt to their ongoing partners at Gabrielle’s district for continuing the Research Practice Partnership with SchoolWide Labs that made this possible. Furthermore, the authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (Award No. 1742053, No. 2019805 and No. 1742046) and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Citation

Hennessy Elliott, C., Gendreau Chakarov, A., Bush, J.B., Nixon, J. and Recker, M. (2023), "Toward a debugging pedagogy: helping students learn to get unstuck with physical computing systems", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/ILS-03-2022-0051

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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