Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Computer Science

Committee Chair(s)

John Edwards


John Edwards


Hillary Swanson


Vicki Allan


Students in an introductory computer science course generally have difficulty producing code that follows the arrangement rules known as syntax. Phanon was created to help students practice writing correct code that follows the rules of syntax. Previous research suggests this tool has helped students improve their exam scores and strengthen effectiveness in the course. A study was conducted to observe students while they complete the syntax exercises to find meaningful patterns in the steps the students take to complete an exercise.

Evidence to support high intrinsic load was found throughout the study, which is a measure of difficulty learning a subject. The syntax exercise design’s ineffectiveness, known as the extraneous cognitive load, was minimal throughout the study. It was also found that even if students seem to take longer completing the syntax exercises, it does not reflect a decrease in their performance for the class. This supports a theory that syntax is a separate process from problem-solving and mastering it can help students focus their cognitive process on problem-solving.

Finding ordinary moments of comprehension or struggle can provide insight into how improvements can be made in Phanon and computer science teaching methods. The effectiveness of Phanon can be applied to students with a variety of programming experience.