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Enjoyable Introduction to Programming Using Visual Tools 12 September, 2012

Dr. Jey Kesavan Veerasamy

Dr. Jey Kesavan Veerasamy, Director of CS UT Design Program & Teaching Faculty, Department of Computer Science, Erik Jonsson School, UT Dallas, interacted with universities on 12th September 2012 via A-VIEW on “An enjoyable introduction to programming using visual tools”.

Learning to program

A career in software engineering is very rewarding and full of opportunities. The first step in this direction would be to learn programming. “Learning programming is like learning to ride a bicycle,” says Dr. Veerasamy. It can seem very difficult in the beginning. The biggest challenge in programming is debugging errors. Also, the syntax used in different languages can be a problem for many beginners.

Current state in the US and India

Students in the U.S. generally choose a career by seeing people at work. Marines, pilots, police officers, doctors and firemen are often seen doing things that can attract young minds. But, a software engineer is never seen at work in a practical world. Also, the fear of math and logic can also scare students away from software engineering. “In fact, it is cool to say that I am weak in mathematics especially among young girls,” adds Dr. Veerasamy.

In India, a lot of students are forced to choose computer engineering by parents. Many students end up memorising programs for popular questions so that they can sail through the exams. This is again unhealthy.

Visual tools

A good solution to these problems would be to introduce programming and logic in a fun manner using visual tools such as Alice 2.2 or Snap 4.0. Usual programming techniques such as sequencing, selection and repetition can be experimented in these tools quite easily and there is no kind of debugging involved. Several concepts like if then else loops, Arrays and parallel processing can be easily learnt via visual tools.

Dr. Veerasamy demoed Alice through A-VIEW.

Goals

An immediate goal would be to introduce Alice to Under Graduate Computer Science programs in India. Students should be encouraged to play around with Alice before they are introduced to logic, flow charts etc. In the future, every college in India should run Alice on their own.

Answering to a question, Dr. Veersamy suggested that tools like Alice would be good for school kids as well. However, it works best for students at their 8th grade and above. Alice also has its own set of limitations such as creation of objects and handling recursions.

Around 18 universities including NIT Calicut, Amrita University and Indian Naval Academy participated in the discussion.

A-VIEW is an E-Learning platform, developed by Amrita University's E-Learning Research Lab, which is a state-of-the-art software for distance education and collaboration. It is available for free to all the educational institutes across India, and can be downloaded from the website address, www.aview.in or by sending an email to aview@amrita.edu.