Do code smells hamper novice programming: A controlled experiment on Scratch Programs

Felienne Hermans, Efthimia Aivaloglou

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review

59 Citations (Scopus)


Recently, block-based programming languages like Alice, Scratch and Blockly have become popular tools for programming education. There is substantial research showing that block-based languages are suitable for early programming education. But can block-based programs be smelly too? And does that matter to learners? In this paper we explore the code smells metaphor in the context of block-based programming language Scratch. We conduct a controlled experiment with 61 novice Scratch programmers, in which we divided the novices into three groups. One third receive a non-smelly program, while the other groups receive a program suffering from the Duplication or the Long Method smell respectively. All subjects then perform the same comprehension tasks on their program, after which we measure their time and correctness. The results of the experiment show that code smell indeed influence performance: subjects working on the program exhibiting code smells perform significantly worse, but the smells did not affect the time subjects needed. Investigating different types of tasks in more detail, we find that Long Method mainly decreases system understanding, while Duplication decreases the ease with which subjects modify Scratch programs.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 24th International Conference on Program Comprehension, ICPC 2016
Place of PublicationDanvers, MA
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-5090-1428-6
Publication statusPublished - May 2016
Event24th International Conference on Program Comprehension: ICPC 2016 - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: 16 May 201617 May 2016


Conference24th International Conference on Program Comprehension
Abbreviated titleICPC
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityAustin, TX


  • Programming profession
  • Sprites (computer)
  • Games
  • Computer languages
  • Education


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