An historical consideration of introductory programming languages

Issued: Mon, 24 Feb 2020 11:29:00 GMT

Every Computer Science department or Engineering school has to decide what language should be taught to novice programmers. This decision can provoke considerable discussion and disagreement. Factors commonly mentioned in order to make this choice include ease of use, ease of access, associated tools, common usage in industry, syntactical elegance, and pedagogical factors amongst others. In this talk I will present the languages used in my department, the School of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, over the last 4 decades starting with a home grown language SMALL (Small Machine Algol Like Language) and ending up with Python. The syntax of the languages will be examined, partly from the perspective of Stefik and Hanenberg. Other languages designed for novices will also be discussed with an in depth look at Logo. We will hopefully finish with a discussion about whether any of this matters.

Robert Sheehan has been a teacher at primary, secondary and tertiary level. He has worked as a Senior Tutor in the School of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, New Zealand for more than three decades. He has been the first year coordinator for many years and is interested in better ways to teach programming at all levels but spends most of his time teaching courses in Computer Systems. He has developed a number of graphical programming environments for novices but is currently interested in how we can make better text-based languages for novices and other non-experts.