Mobile phones offer a new way for Africa’s students to learn programming
By Sotobi Moyosore
1 week ago
- Top Stories
It’s not easy for Computer Science students at most universities in Africa to practice and develop their programming skills. They have the ability to program, but access to desktop or laptop computers might be a problem. I experienced this first-hand while teaching programming at a Kenyan university. Most African universities have public computer laboratories, but these tend to be used to teach various classes, hence limiting students’ access. Many institutions may also have very few computers for a large number of students. This means that students might need to access computers outside the classroom in order to practise programming. Yet, most people in developing countries do not own computers at home. Limited access to PCs aggravates the learning difficulties faced by programming students. This is especially true because programming is best learnt through practice. However, most students own mobile phones. Cell phones are the most widely used devices among students in developing countries – and, indeed, among Africans more generally. I therefore set out to develop a solution that would enable students to learn programming using mobile phones. The biggest challenge was turning mobile phones into functional programming environments. After all, they aren’t designed with programming in mind. They have small screens and small keypads that impede their use as programming platforms. So I designed what I called scaffolding – or supporting – techniques that allow for the effective construction of programs on mobile phones using the Java language. These techniques can also address new learners’ needs. The results, taken from my work with 182 students at four universities in South Africa and Kenya, are encouraging. Techniques for mobile phones The scaffolding techniques I designed can be used on Android platforms. They are specifically aimed at students learning Object Oriented Programming using Java. The technology works by offering three types of scaffolding techniques: Automatic scaffolding, which are supporting techniques automatically presented on the interface. These include instructions on which buttons to press, error prompts and suggestions to view an example while working on a program. These scaffolding techniques fade away as the student gets more familiar with the application. Static scaffolding, which involves supporting techniques that never fade away. I included two such techniques. One presents the layout of a Java program on the main interface, so the student always has a visual representation before interacting with the program. This technique is said particularly to support a new student’s learning. The second static scaffolding technique involves creating the program one part at a time, breaking it into smaller parts. This is an effective way to support the creation of a program on small screen devices like mobile phones. User-initiated scaffolding, which are supporting techniques that a student can activate. Examples include hints, examples and tutorials.[NewsNaira]
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