Making sense of data structures exams

Making sense of data structures exams,10.1145/1839594.1839612,Beth Simon,Mike Clancy,Robert McCartney,Briana Morrison,Brad Richards,Kate Sanders

Making sense of data structures exams   (Citations: 2)
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Is there consensus on what students should learn in CS2? Should they learn to use data structures, understand their specific implementation details, or both? Finally, has the computing education community's answer to the second question changed over time? In this paper, we begin to explore these questions based on an analysis of a key artifact instructors use to assess their students' performance: their final exams. Specifically, we look at two CS2 concepts as covered in those exams: stacks and hashtables. Our dataset includes 76 exams from 14 institutions around the world spanning 1973-2009 that were gathered as part of the DCER project, which is investigating the feasibility of a repository for computing education research data; to our knowledge this is a novel dataset in computing education. We begin by giving a general feel for this extensive dataset by describing the formats and difficulty level of the stack and hashtable questions and the computing skill students must possess to answer them. Next, we look at the questions' assessment of implementation knowledge versus interface or application knowledge. Despite a number of calls for modern CS2 to focus more on application than implementation, we found no evidence of such a trend. We note, however, that there are institutional differences in the data, and that there are alternative ways in which application may be assessed in a course.
Published in 2010.
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    • ...Simon et al. [9] analyzed the stack and hashtable questions in a large dataset of data structures exams drawn from 14 schools over a 36-year period...
    • ...We selected exams that had been identified as potentially having questions that fell into one of the two “apply” categories used in [9], either Apply-given or Apply-select...
    • ...When asked the purpose of a Data Structures course, most instructors would include in their answer “Teaching students about different data structures with the goal of having students select the most appropriate data structure for the application problem.” Many instructors include implementation of specific data structures, as is evidenced by the number of implementation questions found in the original analysis [9]...

    Briana B. Morrisonet al. Applying data structures in exams

    • ...A number of groups have worked to develop exam questions that more precisely evaluate specific programming topics [3, 11, 5], and other groups have worked to enumerate the concepts included in CS1 courses [8] or in data structure exams [20]...
    • ...For example, Simon et al. [20] analyzed hashing and stack questions on CS2 exams to determine whether CS2 was transitioning from a focus on implementation to a focus on interface and application...
    • ...The categories for the latter were drawn from the recent study of data structures exams [20]...

    Andrew Petersenet al. Reviewing CS1 exam question content

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