Universal Journal of Educational Research 4(2): 403-408, 2016 http://www.hrpub.org
Looking at Algorithm Visualization through the Eyes of
Pre-service ICT Teachers
Department of Computer Education & Instructional Technology, Amasya University, Turkey
Copyright © 2016 by authors, all rights reserved. Authors agree that this article remains permanently open access under the
terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 International License
Abstract The study investigated pre-service ICT algorithm visualization (AV). AV is defined as the graphical
teachers’ perceptions of algorithm visualization (AV) with illustration of algorithms and data structure via software
regard to appropriateness of teaching levels and contribution developed for this purpose [13, 35]. Almost all educational
to learning and motivation. In order to achieve this aim, a communities have a positive perception of AV . AV is
qualitative case study was carried out. The participants preferred in programming education to facilitate student
consisted of 218 pre-service ICT teachers from four different understanding of the way computer algorithms function .
universities. Data were obtained through an open-ended New strategies are needed in this field, because learning
questionnaire (n=210) and interviews (n=8). The qualitative computer programming is not easy, even for college students
data were analyzed using content analysis techniques. The enrolled in computer-related disciplines. College students
results indicated that about half of the pre-service teachers who have basic programming knowledge perceive
thought AV to be appropriate for use in elementary and programming courses as difficult, because these courses
middle schools. A smaller number of participants thought require higher-order thinking skills . Researchers have
that using AV is appropriate in high schools and colleges. investigated several problems that may cause failure of some
Almost all of the participants thought that AV effectively novice programming students and dropout of the
contributes to learning and teaching computer programming. programming course . Some of the major problems
Participants explained this effect in terms of seven properties identified for college students are abstract concepts, lack of
of algorithm visualization environments: Visualization, understanding of the larger entities, lack of applications, and
Algorithmic Thinking, Enjoyable Learning, and Progressive lack of practical and concrete learning situations . A
Learning, Learning by Doing, Game-based Learning, and recently conducted study categorized the problems a novice
Scaffolding. Moreover, results showed that most of the learner faces as “programming knowledge (56%),
pre-service ICT teachers believed that AV contributes programming skills (17%), understanding semantics (13%),
effectively to motivation. They explained this positive and debugging (13%)” . Regarding these problems,
contribution to motivation in terms of six properties of AV: computer science educators and instructional technologists
Easy to use, Visual, Fun, Quick Produced, Active and have been studying technological and pedagogical ways to
Game-based. make programming instruction easier and more effective.
Surely, it is critical to employ instructional time in the most
Keywords Algorithm Visualization, ICT Teachers, appropriate ways possible. In this regard, much algorithm
Teaching/Learning Strategies, Computer Programming visualization software has been developed to facilitate
learning and teaching, and especially to support novice
programmers. One of the first examples of algorithm
visualization software is the Brown Algorithm Simulator and
Animator (BALSA) that assists students in learning the
1. Introduction fundamentals of computer programming through
Teachers have a dual role as educators and innovators in system-generated visualizations . While some AVs can be
information societies. Until recent decades, it was generally accessed for free, only a few of them maintain an educational
accepted that qualified teachers possessed content quality . It is also important to highlight that after the
knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, but today, it is concept was debuted in the mid-1970s, more than 500
expected that good teachers learn emerging technologies and algorithm visualization soft wares have been developed, but
utilize them in the classroom, along with content and a comprehensive repository of AV software has yet to be
pedagogical knowledge . In programming education, established.
teachers have utilized a technology supported strategy called In the 1990s, TANGO, software which allowed learners to
404 Looking at Algorithm Visualization through the Eyes of Pre-service ICT Teachers
create visual algorithm animations by utilizing C language, , the long term impact of algorithm visualization, like
was developed . Pierson and Rodger  also created a other innovations in education, depends on the degree to
Java based system, named JAWAA, which was a “simple which teachers utilize them in practice.
command language for creating animations of data structures It is important to know what teachers think about AV
and displaying them with a Web browser” (p.267). In the specifically ICT teachers. This study attempts to address this
present decade, more interactive algorithm visualization important need in the literature by investigating the
environments have been introduced. For example, Carnegie perception of pre-service ICT teachers about the use of AV
Mellon University developed Alice, which enables novice for teaching computer programming.
programmers to develop attractive three-dimensional
graphic animations . Another popular algorithm 1.1. The purpose of the study
visualization software is Scratch that developed by
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where allows The purpose of this study was to investigate pre-service
learners to develop “interactive, media-rich projects” (p.1) ICT teachers’ perceptions of algorithm visualization with
[24, 39, 41]. Scratch allowed learners to begin programming regard to appropriateness of teaching levels and contribution
with creating animations instead of writing code that make to learning and motivation. Within the scope of this purpose,
learners more motivated . This nature of the Scratch the following specific research questions were addressed:
provides creative developments and discovery learning . 1. What do pre-service ICT teachers think about the
Recent studies indicated that Scratch take learners interest teaching levels for which AV use is suitable?
for programming education . It allowed learners utilize 2. What are the views of pre-service ICT teachers
computational constructs  and improve programming regarding the contribution of AV to teaching and
skills . Surely, it was helpful to development of positive learning computer programming?
perceptions toward programming . In her study Ke also 3. What are the views of pre-service ICT teachers
reported that Scratch is useful to make reflections about daily regarding the contribution of AV to motivation for
experiences . Like the Scratch, Greenfoot is a recently learning programming?
developed algorithm visualization program that aims to teach
computer programming in a visual way to those who have no
prior programming experience, and it has gained great 2. Method
popularity . App Inventor (AI) is a new algorithm
visualization platform that allowed learners create mobile In order to understand pre-service ICT teachers’
applications for Android-based smart phones without writing perception of algorithm visualization, this study employed a
code . Alpha version of AI was launched in 2009. qualitative study. This approach was chosen in order to gain
Graphical interface of AI is like Scratch . Morelli and comprehensive and in-depth information from the selected
Colleagues asserted that AI is easy to learn, accessible and subjects [1, 30, 38]. In this study, the researcher focused on
lead students to problem solving instead of coding . It is perceived appropriateness of AV to teaching levels and
also indicated that AI is a highly motivating and powerful perceived contribution of AV to learning and motivation. In
instructional tool . order to ensure the trustworthiness of the findings, the
Instructors have been using AV software for different credibility of the study was addressed . Triangulation, an
educational aims in different contexts. Generally they use important technique to establish credibility, was utilized in
AV to maintain individual learning, give homework, this study. Data were gathered using two common
facilitate lectures and support laboratory assignments [15, techniques: interview and questionnaire. Furthermore, coder
27]. In K-12 levels, Information and Communication reliability was calculated for analysis.
Technology (ICT) teachers utilize AV software to make it
easier for students to start learning computer programming. 2.1. Samples
Starting programming education at an early age has been
shown to foster mathematical and problem solving skills . The participants in this study consisted of 214 pre-service
Another study, which investigated the contribution of ICT teachers who were in their last year of study in the
specific AV software to students’ achievement, showed that computer education and instructional technology
AV contributes to the development of mathematical and departments at four different universities. Most of the
analytical thinking, problem solving and development of participants (71%) graduated from a vocational high school.
logic . Generally, studies on algorithm visualization have The participants included 104 females and 110 males. Both
focused on the contributions of AV to learning, and students’ female (M=3.93) and male (M=4.03) pre-service teachers
motivation and perceptions. Few studies have investigated had about four years of previous programming experience.
the perceptions of teachers about the usage of AV. Teachers The pre-service teachers had all experienced using algorithm
are decision maker and key actors in instructional visualization to some degree. At a minimum, they had used
environments; their beliefs shape all instructional activities one AV program like Scratch, Alice or Greenfoot.
[7, 11]. According to Robertson, Macvean, and Howland Demographics of the participants are summarized in Table 1.
Universal Journal of Educational Research 4(2): 403-408, 2016 405
Table 1. Demographics of the Pre-service ICT teachers In this regard, one pre-service ICT teacher said, “AV is
simple and suitable for young ages. It can improve learning
High School High School and memory at those ages.”
Female 72 32 104 Likewise, pre-service ICT teachers who highlighted that
Male 81 29 110 AV is not useful for students in upper grades believe that AV
Total 153 61 214 is too simplistic and does not cover the important topics in
computer programming. For example, one pre-service ICT
2.2. Data Collection
"It is unnecessary for us to use AV in college and high
Data was gathered through a questionnaire and interviews. school. The logic behind algorithms is an issue that can be
The questionnaire consisted of 4 demographic questions and understood in one lesson. It will be better for us to learn more
5 open-ended questions. All pre-service teachers answered helpful computer programs. At least, this software should not
the questionnaire voluntarily. Interviews consisting of be use any more."
semi-structured questions were conducted with eight
Table 2. The appropriate teaching grades for using AV
pre-service teachers, and the interviews were recorded via a
recording device. Themes/Categories Frequency (n=196)
Elementary and middle school 51(26%)
2.3. Data Analysis Only middle school 32(16%)
Only elementary school 25(13%)
The data were analyzed using content analysis techniques
Only high school 25(13%)
[30, 26]. In this study, the analysis was organized according
to the four stages defined by Yildirim and Simsek . In the K12+ University 25(13%)
first two stages, data were coded and themes were developed Middle and high school 20(10%)
from these codes. In the last two stages, themes were K12 18(9%)
organized and described.
First, the interviews were transcribed. The answers to the
3.2. What Are the Views of Pre-service ICT Teachers
open-ended questions were coded using Nvivo8, a
Regarding the Contribution of AV to Teaching and
qualitative data analysis software. Then, themes were
Learning Computer Programming?
developed from the codes. In this process, the researcher
made sure that themes were internally consistent and distinct Analysis of the interviews and the responses of the
from each other . The themes were verified and pre-service ICT teachers to open-ended questions showed
confirmed by two independent researchers. Inter-coder that all but fourteen participants (7%) thought that AV
reliability was calculated as 78 percent. contributes effectively to learning and teaching computer
programming. For example one participant stated,
“AV software is an easy and enjoyable program that every
3. Results teacher should learn and should teach to students. It uses a
drag and drop approach, like Legos, and does not require
3.1. What Do Pre-service ICT Teachers Think about the writing code. It is very good because it ensures that students
Teaching Levels for Which Use of AV Is Suitable? learn computer programming while using their imaginations
to design a game-like application.”
Pre-service ICT teachers were asked for which teaching
Table 3. Reasons why pre-service ICT teachers perceive AV as useful
levels AV use is suitable and why. The data analysis
indicated that about half of the participants (55%) thought Themes/Categories Frequency(n=128)
that AV should be used in elementary or middle school. Visualization 45 (35%)
While some of the pre-service ICT teachers (13%) thought
Algorithmic Thinking 34 (27%)
that AV was appropriate only for high school, some
Enjoyable Learning 20 (16%)
participants (10%) regarded AV as suitable for both middle
school and high school. Moreover, some of the participants Progressive Learning 10(8%)
(9%) indicated that AV can be used in all grades, K-12. Also, Learning by Doing 9(7%)
some participants (13%) regarded the use of AV to be Game-based Learning 6(5%)
suitable in grades K-12 and college. The participants’ Clues as Scaffold 4(3%)
opinions are presented under the seven categories in Table 2.
When it was investigated why participants chose lower Results showed that pre-service ICT teachers regard AV
grades instead of high grades, content analysis showed that as a useful instructional strategy for several reasons.
participants mainly prefer using AV in lower grades because Resulting categories are listed in Table 3. On the other hand,
they believe that it is simple, visual and helpful for children. participants who did not find AV useful for teaching and
406 Looking at Algorithm Visualization through the Eyes of Pre-service ICT Teachers
learning highlight that AV is too simple for learning coding. Table 4. Reasons why using AV motivates learners
One of them said, Themes/Categories Frequency(n=135)
“It (AV software) does not make it easier to learn Simple & Easy 41 (30%)
computer programming. On the contrary, it takes users to a
Visual 29 (21%)
utopian world. AV software is not appropriate for the
seriousness of learning computer programming.” Funny 26 (19%)
Many pre-service ICT teachers stated that AV enhances Quick Development 21 (16%)
learning and teaching because it provides a visual learning Interaction & Active Learning 12(9%)
environment. They stated that AV makes programming Game 6(4%)
codes and structures tangible. Therefore, they perceived AV
to be most suitable for when students first start learning About one in three participants noted that the reason using
programming. They also indicated that AV programs support AV motives learners is because it is simple and easy to use
learning by providing clear and apprehensible interfaces. In (30%). Pre-service teachers also indicated that using AV
this regard, one of them stated, “Yeah, easy. Programming makes learning visual (21%) and fun (19%), so it generates
code is abstract, but students can see the structures and necessary motivation for learners. For example, an interview
outputs in AV software. It is easier to learn.” participant said,
Another theme that explains why pre-service ICT teachers “It is being visual and working without writing code
regard AV as effective is algorithmic thinking (27%). Many makes students more motivated. Therefore, AV encourages
pre-service ICT teachers stated that AV facilitates learners to work on programming.” Another important
algorithmic thinking by letting users understand the logic category that emerged as a part of the motivation cultivated
behind computer programs. Therefore, it contributes to by AV was quick development (16%). Pre-service ICT
teaching and learning computer programming. teachers thought that learners feel satisfied when they
It was also found that pre-service ICT teachers believe that immediately see the results of what they do in AV programs.
AV contributes to learning programming because AV Thus, using AV drives them to continue learning. In this
ensures the learning process is fun. It was highlighted that regard, one participant said,
using AV programs were enjoyable on the country of the “I think AV is motivating. It is because we can
traditional instructional approaches. A participant indicated immediately see results of code block we created using AV.
“AV facilitates learning computer programming. It is The resulting products (programs) let individuals to be more
because compare to other programming language, AV is motivated and willing to progress create more complex
easier to understand and more enjoyable. AV software is programs”.
more suitable and beneficial because it contains visual Moreover, some of the ICT teachers emphasized
expressions and visual content which the students like.” interaction with AV programs (9%) as a source of motivation
Three other important themes emerged regarding the for learners. The analysis showed that these teachers
instructional methods that AV employed. Some pre-service believed that active involvement in AV environments
ICT teachers indicated that AV programs utilize progressive successfully keeps learners’ attention. Lastly, a few
learning (8%). Learners can progress in stages with this participants noted that the game-like nature (4%) of AV
approach. Participants also asserted that AV employs the programs improves learners’ motivation. They highlighted
learning-by-doing method (7%). Learners are actively that students, especially young students, want to play
involved when using AV. computer games, so AV appeals to them.
The third instructional method highlighted by pre-service
ICT teachers was game-based learning (5%). They indicated
that, like the other two methods, usage of game-method AV 4. Discussion
facilitates learning and teaching.
Lastly, a few participants noted that AV programs provide The goal of this study was to investigate pre-service ICT
clues as scaffolding (3%), which contributes to instruction. teachers’ perceptions of algorithm visualization with regard
to appropriateness of teaching levels and contribution to
3.3. What Are the Views of Pre-service ICT Teachers learning and motivation. Data analysis revealed that about
Regarding the Contribution of AV to Motivation for half of the pre-service teachers thought that AV is
Learning Programming? appropriate for use in elementary and middle school. A
smaller number of participants thought that using AV is
Results showed that while most of the pre-service ICT appropriate in high school and college. To date, there has not
teachers (87%) thought that AV contributes effectively to been an extensive study showing in which teaching levels
motivation, some of them (13%) did not. Further analysis AV is most preferred and in which teaching levels using AV
indicated that participants who believe using AV making a is most effective. However, the findings of this study
positive contribution to motivation gave reasons that fell correlate with the emphasis of “novice programmer” in
under six main categories. The resulting categories are listed previous studies [e.g. 33]. In the literature, there is a
in Table 4. significant emphasis on learners who have just begun
Universal Journal of Educational Research 4(2): 403-408, 2016 407
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