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Editor’s Note: As commerce and communication move from face-to-face to web transactions, so is teaching and learning. And just as PCs replaced mainframe computers, the Web is displacing personal computing with locally stored programs and data to web based equivalents. It is no longer necessary to go to home, school, or to office to use your computer; all of these resources are available on the Web wherever you have access to a computer. This study applies such technology to courses in computer programming in Korea.

Student-Centered Online Support for
Learning Computer Programming:
Student Perceptions and Preliminary Study

Joong-Kak Kook


The purpose of this study is to examine college students’ perceptions of online learning environments toward learning object-oriented programming, based on student-centered learning, as a supplement to the traditional classroom on campus. Questionnaires were given to students majoring in computer science. Results of the study indicate students generally perceive online learning as positive in helping them reach their learning objectives and students see high value in specific aspects of online learning: self-directed, supports different needs, builds individual interest, delivers programming-related materials, provides access to learning content, offers alternative modes of learning, interaction and collaboration, and so on. In contrast, they do not see the online courses as having better educational value: feeling comfortable when taking online courses or online multimedia, learning more through online materials, favor online courses to traditional courses, or immediate feedback through chats. This case study was performed as a preliminary examination of online learning environments.

Keywords: online learning, object-oriented programming, student-centered learning, students’ perceptions


The computer science and engineering program, SahmYook University (SYU) has a short history, and is only 11 years old. It is a small, liberal arts, and church college, devoted to excellence in teaching. The computer science and engineering division (CSED) program is relatively new, and the accommodates about 350 students, many students are employed by industry upon graduation. To prepare students better for jobs in industry, the University is attempting to enhance students’ learning activities and incorporate recent technology trends into computer science curricula.

It is generally acknowledged by IT educators that learning computer programming is difficult. Traditionally, first year computer science (CS1) courses teach the principles of computing using the basic features of chosen programming languages such as C, Java, C++ and so on. We teach structured programming - C in the first year of the computer science major, and object-oriented programming - Java in the second year (CS2).

From past research and studies, it is well known that Java is a good language to study, but learning programming is not an easy task (Cheung, 2006). We are reviewing how easy the language is to learn, and whether or not an online learning environment can support novice students to aid in their learning process. In practice, students need to spend considerable time doing practical activities outside the classroom, in order to comprehend the techniques for computer programming. To enable students to carry out programming activities off-campus, an online learning system as a supplement to traditional classroom learning, and a programming development environment accessible from anywhere, were determined to be necessary.

Today, the Internet is one of most transformative technologies in the emergence of new learning technologies. It is being introduced in many colleges to enhance teaching and learning, and prepare students for the information-age world in which we live (Monte, et al., 2003). In the search of better ways to deliver instruction or learning, faculties at the SahmYook University (SYU) also are encouraged to become involved in web-based learning and Internet technology. The university has expanded the number of courses with blended learning (a “blend” of online and traditional learning approaches). Some faculty members have already integrated these technologies into their everyday teaching activities.

Currently, a few online courses in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, Outlook, etc. are offered by SYU. These are elective courses for all freshman students with majors in Business, Science, Art, and Education that are offered every semester (Spring and Fall) at the University. They are offered as cultural studies that taught in an online format to understand “Introduction to computer practice”. Most students take the online course to gain a certificate. These courses are administered by the Information and Education Center, which is attached to the University.

In SYU, no online courses are offered by the computer science and engineering division (CSED). A few faculty in the division offer limited services through an individual FTP Server or via the CSED home page ( These services are insufficient for students. Currently, the only online courses in computer programming are from an off-campus vendor.

Several research papers on online programming suggest that online education and blended instruction can be as effective as traditional classroom approaches. However, few studies have focused on learner-centered satisfaction with online learning environments, particularly in the transition from traditional learning (face-to-face) to online learning approaches (Smart and James, 2006).

In this study, knowing exactly how students in the CSED perceive online learning is an important first step. The way in which online courses in computer programming are offered via the web can influence students’ comprehension of computer programming and related courses, as well as the way in which faculty members use electronic teaching materials. Students may feel that online learning will better meet their needs and desires in terms of offering flexible educational opportunities anytime and anywhere, but the fact remains that little is known about how students learn or how they feel about learning online.

The objective of this study is to examine how the students feel and learn during online courses in computer programming and how they perceive the overall learning experience. The following are the main research questions:

§        What are the students perceptions of the overall course quality of online learning if they already had programming related online learning experience?

§        What are the learners’ perceptions of the benefits of programming related online learning?

§        What are the learner’s perceptions of learner support in programming related online learning?

For a preliminary study of programming-related online learning, this study examines students’ perceptions from students majoring in computer science and engineering that have experienced previous online programming courses.


Several terms are used in this paper (often interchangeably) with the following meanings.

Student-centered learning

“student-centered learning” implies a “need for students to assume a high level of responsibility in the learning situation and be actively choosing their goals and managing their learning. They can no longer rely on the lecturer to tell them what, how, where and when to think.” (Ellis, 2001, p.169). In this student-centered learning, students are required to be active participants in their learning; they learn at their own pace and use their own strategies; learning is more individualized than standardized.

Online learning

Online learning” is defined as the following: “As a technical term, online learning encompasses a range of technologies such as the world-wide-web, email, chat, newsgroups, and text, audio and video conferencing delivered over computer networks (local area networks, intranets or the public Internet) to deliver education and training, both remotely and in the classroom.” (Backroad, 2003).

Web-based learning

The term web-based learning is defined as the following: “Web-based learning is often called online learning or e-learning because it includes online course content. Discussion forums via email, videoconferencing, and live lectures (videostreaming) are all possible through the web. Web based courses may also provide static pages such as printed course materials. One of the advantages of using the web to access course materials is that web pages may contain hyperlinks to other parts of the web, thus enabling access to a vast amount of web based information.” (McKimm, et al., 2003, p.3).

Blended learning

Spenser defines blended learning by “e-Learning can augment traditional classroom offerings, thereby freeing up valuable resources and expanding the offering to greater numbers of campus-based students” (Spenser, 2001).


It is anticipated that the result of this case study can contribute to the preliminary investigation of providing online learning for supporting learning of computer programming at the SYU University. The necessary elements in a learner–centered environment would greatly improve opinions, managements, and policies for students and online programming learning. By identifying both the positive attitudes and the obstacles held by students, the results of this study can also form the basis for a department-wide online learning implementation plan. The results can also be used to build future efforts aimed at implementing online learning not only in the CSED department, but in other departments or colleges throughout the SYU.

Data Collection

The questionnaire was designed to be applicable to the study’s population in terms of actual working conditions. Several items, used in this questionnaire from other studies (Uskov 2003; Uskov, 2002), were rephrased for this study or developed partially by the author.

The survey volume held 3 pages, containing their experiences of online courses that supported the student-centered principles of education. The author focused on SYU students of the Computer Science and Engineering Department (CSED) major.

The students represent the population of the research target of this case study. As mentioned earlier, no computer programming-related online courses were offered by the CSED department or any other departments in SYU. Therefore, the survey asked them their online experiences toward computer programming-related online courses taken from commercial web-sites off-campus.

Before performing the survey, the first draft of the questionnaire was tested in a pilot study of 5 students (3 senior, 2 sophomore) after which revisions were made to clarify several questions. The revised questionnaires were distributed to about 350 students enrolled in the CSED. The survey asked participants to provide honest feedback about their experiences. The survey was collected over two weeks from the end of the 2nd semester of 2006.

217 out of a total of 350 students completed and returned the survey to the author. After collecting data of 217 students, students were controlled and classified into two groups: one group of participants had taken at least one computer programming-related online course and the other group of participants had not taken any online course. The former group had 82 respondents, and the latter group had 135 respondents. The latter group of students who had not experienced such online course(s) had to be eliminated from data analysis. The author has adopted the former group only to obtain more effective and accurate information. The results of the study, therefore, are based on 82 respondents, who had taken at least one computer programming-related online course.

The questionnaire was composed of 38 items. Of them, 12 items were demographic information (Q1-Q12), such as gender, student grade, SYU online course, SYU online course, computer programming experience, computer programming-related online courses, type of available Internet mode, weekly Internet hours used on campus or off-campus. The remaining 26 items (Q13-Q38) were related to the topic of this paper.

Data analyses were carried out with SPSS v.12 (Statistical Package for Social Science), using frequencies, percentage, cross-tabulations and chi-square tests, t-test, correlations, and scale reliability.

Results and Analysis

The following is the basic information related to the respondent’s characteristics or descriptive statistics.

Of the 82 respondents who completed all aspects of computer programming-related online courses, the gender was identified as 30.5% female (N=25) and 69.5% male (N=57), as shown in Figure 1. They consisted of 54.9% (N=45) freshman, 30.5%(N=25) sophomore, 14.6%(N=12) junior, and 0% (N=0) senior. See Figure 2.

The majority of respondents (97.6%, N=80) have the Internet available at home, and of them, 75.6% use a commercial cable line, and the remaining use other communication media, including DSL, MODEM, etc., while almost all of the students (98.7%, N=81) use the Internet at least three hours weekly off-campus.

Students were asked the question: “What are the three main reasons to connect to the Internet?” 67.5% (N=55) of them answered for entertainment or games, and 64.6% answered for getting general 1nformation, and 57.2% (N=47) answered for earning learning activities, and the reaming answered for other uses: email (20.7%, N=17), chatting (45.1%,N=37 ), and others (23.2%, N=19).


                  Figure 1. Gender                     Figure 2. Student classification

The majority of the students (92.7%, N=76) had computer programming experience, at least, with a semester course, and 7.3 % (N=6) had no experience. Most of them (86.6%, N=11) had some online experience from SYU campus, and 13.4% (N= 11) had no experience. Of them, most of the students, 72.0% (N=59) had some experiences, with at least 1 computer programming-related online course, 21.9% (N=18) with 2 courses, and the remaining 6.1% (N=5) had no experience.

The following data analysis attempted to see if any differences existed for demographic variables, illustrated earlier, among students, and were run to determine the differences in perceptions. The result indicates that Table 1 shows no significant differences in students’ perceptions toward online learning, in these demographic variables at the p=0.05 level. To put it shortly, the analysis showed no significant differences in gender, SYU online course, experience of other web sites (off-campus), computer programming experience, number of computer programming-rated online courses, type of internet mode, weekly internet hours used on campus (except class), and weekly Internet hours used at home.

The following data analysis is related to the topic of this study, containing 26 items (Q13-Q38) in the questionnaire, each item used a 5-scale Likert type. For each subject’s responses, 5 means strongly agree and 1 means strongly disagree.

Table 1
Student Perceptions and Demographic Variables





Q1. Gender:


 1) female




 2) male




Q5. SYU online course:


 1) yes




 2) no




Q6. Experience at the other web sites


 1) yes




 2) no




Q7. Computer programming experience:


 1) yes




 2) no




Q8-1. Number of computer programming-
related online courses:


 1) 1 online course




 2) 2 online courses or more




Q10. Type of Internet mode:


 1) cable (dedicated line)




 2) others




Q11-1. Weekly Internet hours used on
campus (except class):


 1) 1 hour




 2) 2 hours or more




Q11-2. Weekly Internet hours used off-
campus (at home):


1) 1 hour




2) 2 hours or more




For data analysis, these 26 items were sub-grouped into five broad categories:

I.   Convenience (Q18-Q21, Q25, Q28, Q38),
II.  Flexibility (Q17, Q26, Q27, Q33),
III. Collaboration (Q16, Q29, Q36, Q37),
IV.  Retention (Q13-Q15, Q22-Q24, Q30-Q32), and
V.   Globalization (Q34, Q350).

Summary data is presented in Table 2.

A statistical technique was used for testing internal consistencies. Reliability statistics between these five subgroups showed Cronbach’s alpha values of 0.736, 0.615, 0.601, 0.719, and 0.778 for each group, respectively. These values were higher than at the 0.6 level which implies that these subgroups were moderate for internal consistencies.

Table 2
Statistics of the Whole Sub-Group


Number of



Reliability Statistics
Cronbach’s Alpha


I. Convenience





II. Flexibility





III. collaboration





IV. Retention





V. Globalization





Overall    26  3.41  0.46

Cronbachs α > 0.6 *

For the first sub-scale, the mean score of 7 items is 3.88, for the second, the mean of 4 items is 3.76, for the third the mean of 4 items is 3.68, for the fourth the mean of 9 items is 3.21, and for the last the mean of 2 items is 3.95. The overall mean of 26 item questionnaires is 3.41. In sum, it indicates that the students slightly agreed with the statements.

Next, the mean value shown in Table 3 indicates that many items have positive opinions toward online learning held by the students. Only a small portion (M=2.63, 3.01, 3.11, and 3.12 in the Q15, Q14, Q13, and Q30 of subgroup IV, in order) tended to hold negative opinions toward online learning. The S.D. (standard deviation) also reveals the spread of the score distribution toward the statements about online learning. The data collected also indicated the extent to which survey respondents provided similar responses in answering the questions. The S.D. value was small in the survey responses. In sum, the data analysis revealed that the students generally held positive opinions toward online learning.

Table 3
Students’ Response for Each Item





Students’ Response






unbound by place











less online learning cost (tuition fee, .)





all course-related materials, handouts, etc.





do not require student’s physical attendance





self-paced (any time, any place, any pace)





various learning styles (lecturing; hands-on





on-demand access to learning content





self-directed, different needs, interest









various available modes of learning





look up the information I need





learn in greater depth.





interaction and collaboration.









working with my teammates





necessary to communicate to and interact





a member of a team in virtual collaborative .





attractive audio- and video lectures














hyperlinks, graphics, animations, etc. and/





a class learning style





prefer online courses to traditional course





40% online course + 60% with lecture





active online multimedia course





feel comfortable taking course online.





learn more through on-line material





immediate feedback through chats





global resources of knowledge







no geographic isolation




Q#: Question#   N: number of respondents

S.D.: Standard Deviation Ave. Mean: Average Mean


Discussions and Summary

The results of this investigation revealed commonly held opinions among students on online learning and indicate that students tend to view online learning positively. Students were of the opinion that online learning benefits students and assists learning in general. Results of this study echo earlier studies by Yang (2006), Smart (2006), Maltby (2000), and O’Malley (1999).

Results of this study also revealed other widespread opinions on advantages and benefits displayed in online learning, as follows:

§        Online can encourage more independent and active learning for students to do programming activities.

§        Online saves students and faculties time and effort.

§        Information or class materials for programming learning can vary in quality and level. So accurate guidance and preparation is needed.

§        Resources can be accessed from any location and at any time.

§        Online learning is able to link resources to many different formats.

§        Online learning can be an efficient way of delivering programming course materials.

§        Online learning can make teaching more efficient.

§        Online learning provides students greater access to educational opportunities.

§        Online learning can provide useful supplementary materials to conventional classes in computer programming.

In addition, whether based on the commonly held opinion resulting in each subgroup and reality of programming class in traditional classroom, the following draws the major components of online environments that can enhance and improve the learning of programming in online learning, and that can make the learning environment as smooth as possible.

Advanced online system with multimedia system and visual tools
Many students are interested in an online environment that uses visualization to display class structure. They spend lots of time discussing class structure in object-oriented programming. In fact, visuals have been an important pedagogical tool for a long time in computer programming. The online system can provide opportunities to expand availability of visualization-based programming learning tools. Some tools such as BlueJ and Jeliot are recommended for activating learning tools (Maria and Luis, 2005), (Buabeng, et al. 2002).

BlueJ is a visual programming environment designed to teach object-oriented programming using Java. It is an integrated teaching environment and language, developed at Sydney University and Monash University in Australia. This program helps students to develop an understanding of object-oriented concepts such as objects and classes, message passing, method invocation and parameter passing. Jeliot emphasizes program animation to demonstrate the execution of input-output, assignment, selection and loop statements (Haataja, et al., 2000).

In addition to these tools, Rational Rose and Together are powerful visual modeling tools for object-oriented system development using UML (Unified Modeling Language). They support full round trip engineering, allowing reverse engineering and the generation of UML diagrams from source programs. These are not suitable for use as a tool for beginners to learn object-oriented programming (Cheung, 2006). Some functions can compare with other OOP visual packages: BlueJ, Sun ONE Studio, Rational Rose, etc. (Cheung, 2006).

Collaborative and interactive system

The online system can provide an integrated collaborative and interactive environment for students to do programming activities at anytime and anywhere, including the following activities:

1.      Building effective interactions among students is important in the learning process. When students are geographically remote from each other, the system is capable of accessing a database server that stores students’ work and logs their behavior while doing programming activities online.

2.      Another important function in learning programming online is to give instant help for those students who need it. Students can use e-mail or bulletin board messages to contact their peers or instructors. In the online system, the main idea is to answer the questions as quickly as possible so that the upcoming problems do not hinder the learning process (Haataja, et al., 2000).

3.      Students do not learn in isolation. Learning is no longer bounded by the closed wall of the classroom but transcends the limits of time and location. They are often involved in learning activities that require them to work with their peers in small groups and teams, both inside and outside the classroom (Cheung, 2006).

4.      The students can be engaged in different kinds of out-of-class activities, and can work in groups that need to communicate, debate, and give opinions to other group members, encouraging the kind of reflection that leads to learning, through various technology-enhanced forums and interactions.

5.      The system also allows instructors to effectively monitor the learning progress of students and provide timely feedback to them (Sheung-On, et al., 2004; Ellis, 2001; Esteves, et. al., 2006).

Online system offering rich materials for programming activities

In a face-to-face programming course, learning materials and exercises are the same for most students. It is difficult to come up with learning materials and exercises that are suitable for all levels of students performing programming activities. Certain homework may be too difficult for some students, others find them too easy, many are frustrated (Uskov, 2002). Also, the structure of the networked environment can be improved (Haataja, et al., 2000).

The ideal system would offer rich adaptive materials learning materials to cater for students at different levels.

Effective learning management system for novice programmers

An effective learning management system eliminates some of the programming environment difficulties that students usually encounter. For example, students can work anywhere, anytime, at their own pace. Students can conduct programming activities in a convenient way, without worrying about media storage or the locations of their coursework. Students don’t need to install Java JDK, set up suitable environment variables for program compilation, and provide additional IDE tools. The online system is fully equipped and includes automatic compiling, checking, testing, and plagiarism detection of submitted programming assignments (Truong, et al., 2005). For example, programs created by students can be sent to the server for compilation or execution of classes can be activated by clicking on the corresponding class icons. With such an effective system, students can get hints and extra help easily. They can use this online system to develop their programming activities and can receive support from the effective learning management system anytime and anywhere.

In summary, so far we have observed opinions among students on online learning, and we have also seen with some desirable or necessary components, displayed among students surveyed, as follows: An advanced online system with multimedia system and visual tools, a collaborative and interactive system, an online system offering rich materials for programming activities, and an effective learning management system for novice programmers.

From a student’s perspective, it is desirable to have an advanced system that provides an integrated programming environment for students to do programming activities and services anytime and anywhere. This also enables smooth integration of programming with lecture notes and other web based content. Faculties will also favor the use of such an automatic learning management system that is able to monitor and collect information about students’ performance.


As mentioned earlier, this paper describes student-centered online support for learning computer programming. Overall, the results indicate that students tend to view online learning positively. These results are preliminary, but they are helping to identify some issues to be focused upon in future studies.

Sstudents see high value in some items: self-directed, different needs, individual interest, programming-related materials, access to learning content, various available modes of learning, interaction and collaboration, and so on. In contrast, the students do not see the online learning courses as having better educational value or satisfied state in some items: feeling comfortable when taking online courses, online multimedia courses, learning more through online materials, favor of online courses to traditional courses, or immediate feedback through chats.

This study only considers students’ opinions, not professors’ opinions. A follow-up study must be conducted to assesses faculties’ opinions. Some important outcomes of this study point to the need for further investigation. How do the faculties integrate the traditional programming class into online learning? What is the best method to monitor student progress? And when is standard content better than customized content? To put it clearly, research about online learning is broad and complex. Research in the near future may take on a collaborative form, with the SYU University in partnership with other universities throughout the world.

Finally, the hope of the author is that this case study will contribute to a better understanding of students’ opinion toward online programming learning at the Sahm Yook University’ computer science and engineering department (CSED), and that this preliminary information will assist in designing better online learning environments and more challenging questions for research.


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About the Author

Kook, Joong-Kak, Ph.D. is a professor of Division of Computer Science and Engineering, Sahm Yook Universitty at Seoul, Republic of Korea.

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