Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices on the Naming of Variables in Introductory Python Programming Courses

Vivian van der Werf, Alaaeddin Swidan, Felienne Hermans, Marcus Specht, Efthimia Aivaloglou

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

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Abstract

Motivation. Variable naming practices are part of the software developer’s profession, influencing program comprehension and code quality. Yet, little is known about how variable naming practices are taught in beginner courses. Objective. This paper investigates naming beliefs, self-reported teaching practices, and observations regarding variable naming practices of teachers of introductory Python programming courses. Methods. We adopted an in-depth qualitative approach by interviewing ten teachers from secondary education and higher education and developed several themes in order to answer our research questions. Results. Among various opinions and practices, we found that teachers agree on using meaningful names, but have conflicting beliefs about what is meaningful. Moreover, the described teaching practices do not always match teacher’s views on meaningful names, and teachers rarely encourage students to use them. Instead, they express that naming practices should not be enforced and that students will develop them by example. Whereas some teachers report focusing solely on conventions, others deliberately dedicate time for students to engage with naming, create their own guidelines, provide continuous feedback, or include naming exercises on exams. Discussion. Naming practices do not seem to be deliberately taught, even though they influence program understanding and code quality. We also identified inconsistencies in teachers’ self-reported naming practices. As such, we encourage intentional conversations about naming practices in educational settings, specifically linking naming to code quality and readability. We see room for group and peer activities as a means to this end, as well as providing formative feedback dedicated to naming.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings - 2024 ACM/IEEE 46th International Conference on Software Engineering
Subtitle of host publicationSoftware Engineering Education and Training, ICSE-SEET 2024
PublisherIEEE
Pages368-379
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9798400704987
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2024
Event46th International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering Education and Training, ICSE-SEET 2024 - Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 14 Apr 202420 Apr 2024

Publication series

NameProceedings - International Conference on Software Engineering
ISSN (Print)0270-5257

Conference

Conference46th International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering Education and Training, ICSE-SEET 2024
Country/TerritoryPortugal
CityLisbon
Period14/04/2420/04/24

Keywords

  • novices
  • programming education
  • teachers
  • Variable naming

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