Increasing the Effectiveness of Error Messages in a Computer Programming and Simulation Tool

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Each programming language has a compiler associated with it which helps to identify logical or syntactical errors in the program. These compiler error messages play important part in the form

Each programming language has a compiler associated with it which helps to identify logical or syntactical errors in the program. These compiler error messages play important part in the form of formative feedback for the programmer. Thus, the error messages should be constructed carefully, considering the affective and cognitive needs of programmers. This is especially true for systems that are used in educational settings, as the messages are typically seen by students who are novice programmers. If the error messages are hard to understand then they might discourage students from understanding or learning the programming language. The primary goal of this research is to identify methods to make the error messages more effective so that students can understand them better and simultaneously learn from their mistakes. This study is focused on understanding how the error message affects the understanding of the error and the approach students take to solve the error. In this study, three types of error messages were provided to the students. The first type is Default type error message which is an assembler centric error message. The second type is Link type error message which is a descriptive error message along with a link to the appropriate section of the PLP manual. The third type is Example type error message which is again a descriptive error message with an example of the similar type of error along with correction step. All these error types were developed for the PLP assembly language. A think-aloud experiment was designed and conducted on the students. The experiment was later transcribed and coded to understand different approach students take to solve different type of error message. After analyzing the result of the think-aloud experiment it was found that student read the Link type error message completely and they understood and learned from the error message to solve the error. The results also indicated that Link type was more helpful compare to other types of error message. The Link type made error solving process more effective compared to other error types.