Programmers, Programming and Professionalism

The researchers within the domain of computer science education are a dynamic, productive and internationally recognised group at AUT.  Primarily we are interested in the teaching and learning of computer science.

We have several active strands of research within this theme:

Development of Novice Programmers

We are interested in all aspects of the teaching and learning of novice programmers.  We have been focused on the assessment of novice programmers and have a continued interest in the pedagogy and cognitive development of novice programmers.

Example Project

Since 2004 Dr. Jacqueline Whalley and Dr. Tony Clear, in conjunction with Dr Raymond Lister of UTS in Sydney, have co-led the BRACElet project, which uses an action research model to study the performance of students on programming assessments, with the aim of better understanding the problems students have with understanding and writing computer programs. This project is a global research project spanning 14 educational institutions across seven countries and has resulted in over 30 publications.

Contact Dr. Jacqueline Whalley for more information.


2007: ACM SIGCSE Special Projects Grant
2006: Faculty Contestable Research Grant
2006: CITRUS Award for Collaborative Research

Related publications:
Whalley, J. and Lister, R. (2009). The BRACElet 2009.1 (Wellington) Specification. In Proceedings of the Eleventh Australasian Computing Education Conference (Wellington, New Zealand). CRPIT, 95. Hamilton, M. and Clear, T., Eds. ACS. 9-18.

Lopez, M., Whalley, J., Robbins, P., and Lister, R. (2008). Relationships between reading, tracing and writing skills in introductory programming. In Proceeding of the Fourth International Workshop on Computing Education Research (Sydney, Australia, September 06 - 07, 2008). ICER '08. ACM, New York, NY, 101-112.


We are investigating and developing a set of tools to support the teaching and learning of computer programming, software practice and software design.

Example Projects

1. Automated Feedback for Novice programmers
In this project, in collaboration with Professor Rachel Cardell-Oliver (University of Western Australia), we are looking at software practice and metrics and how these can be leveraged to help novice programmers.

Contact Dr. Jacqueline Whalley or Anne Philpott for more information

Related publications:
Whalley, J. and Philpott, A. (2011). A unit testing approach to building novice programmers skills and confidence. In Proc. Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE 2011), Perth, Australia. CRPIT, 114. John Hamer and Michael de Raadt Eds., ACS. 113-118.

Cardell-Oliver, R. (2011). How can Software Metrics Help Novice Programmers? In Proc. Australasian Computing Education Conference (ACE 2011), Perth, Australia. CRPIT, 114. John Hamer and Michael de Raadt Eds., ACS. 55-62.

2. SET
Current software engineering tool sets, whilst abundant, are either optimized for large teams of professionals or tied to a particular methodology or collection of practices. Development projects often require expertise in a multiplicity of these complex tools.

Software engineering educators have observed that the effort required by students to learn and manage new tools can detract from learning the principles of the discipline itself. In this project we are developing a lightweight tool set that supports the software development process and, in doing so, helps novices to develop an understanding and awareness of principles and practices as they work.

Related publication:
Philpott, A., Buchan, J. & Connor, A., (2007) An Integrated Tool Set to Support Software Engineering Learning. Proceedings SIENZ’07 Software Innovation and Engineering New Zealand Workshop 2007.

Contact Anne Philpott for more information

3. Explanograms
We are developing a general purpose mobile Tablet PC platform for generating explanograms “a sketch or diagram that students can play”.   Read more

Investigators: Dr Tony Clear, Dr Jacqueline Whalley, Dr Robert Wellington, Dr Arnold Pears (Uppsala University)


2007: Microsoft Research Asia Grant (“Mobile Computing in Education Theme”)

Related publication:
Clear, T., Whalley, J., Hill, J., Liu, Y., Pears, A., & Plimmer, B. (2008). A Global Software Project: Developing a Tablet PC Capture Platform for Explanograms. Paper presented at the 8th Baltic Sea Conference on Computing Education Research, Koli Calling, Koli, Finland.

Contact Dr. Tony Clear for more information


SERL members have recently launched an ongoing programme of research into the novice to expert programmer continuum.  The scope of this project extends from “programming in the small” to “programming in the large” and the work of professional programmers. Thus the project has the goal of contributing to broader and deeper understandings and impacting practice for both educators and software practitioners.
Related publications:
Clear, T., Whalley, J., Robbins, P., Philpott, A., Eckerdal, A., Laakso, M.-J., et al. (2011). Report on the final BRACElet workshop: Auckland University of Technology, September 2010. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, 15(1), T1.

Eckerdal, A., Laakso, M.-J., Lopez, M., & Sarkar, A. (2011, 27-29 June). Relationship between text and action conceptions of programming: a phenomenographic and quantitative perspective. Paper presented at the 16th annual joint conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education, Darmstadt, Germany.

Contact Dr. Tony Clear for more information

Potential students

If you are interested in doing a thesis (PhD, Master's or Honour’s) in the area of computer science education or professional software practice please contact us. We always have a number of projects underway that you can develop into your own thesis as well as welcoming students with their own research ideas. There are a number of competitive scholarships, awards and funding sources that are available for students who wish to study at AUT:

AUT Vice-Chancellor’s Doctoral scholarships
New Zealand International Doctoral Research Scholarships