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We report on a study that used subgoal labels to teach students how to write while loops with a Parsons problem learning assessment. Subgoal labels were used to aid learning of programming while not overloading students' cognitive abilities. We wanted to compare giving learners subgoal labels versus asking learners to generate subgoal labels. As an assessment for learning we asked students to solve a Parsons problem – to place code segments in the correct order. We found that students who were given subgoal labels performed statistically better than the groups that did not receive subgoal labels or were asked to generate subgoal labels. We conclude that a low cognitive load assessment, Parsons problems, can be more sensitive to student learning gains than traditional code generation problems.


Morrison, B., Margulieux, L., Ericson, B., and Guzdial, M., 2015. Subgoals Help Students Solve Parsons Problems. Accepted to Proceedings of the 47th ACM technical symposium on Computer science education (SIGCSE '16).

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