PPIG 2022 - 33rd Annual Workshop
Evaluating and improving the Educational CPU Visual Simulator: a sustainable Open Pedagogy approach
Renato Cortinovis, Ranjidha Rajan
Abstract: This paper describes the user-evaluation of a recently significantly redesigned old but effective educational CPU visual simulator, and its subsequent further improvement in a second main iteration of an Open Pedagogy / OER-enabled Pedagogy project. The goal of the simulator is to support novices in understanding the key components of a CPU by means of detailed animations of the execution of its instructions, in understanding the mapping from high-level control structures to low-level (assembly and machine) code, and in coding meaningful programs with a simple but representative assembly language. The simulator developed in the previous iteration, published with an open licence, was evaluated in three different educational settings: technical high school and adult-education specialised computer science courses in Italy, and a university in the U.S.A. This evaluation, mainly based on the thematic content analysis of the feedback from about 50 students, has been very positive, and provided constructive feedback for further improvements and extensions. Grounded on the results of the previous evaluation, the simulator is being re-developed as a brand-new Web application, further extended with features such as the addition of synchronised audio description of what is happening while the simulator animates the inner working of the CPU, the introduction of support for array processing, and spin-off projects such as a supporting open e-book, and a natural language conversational agent to answer students’ queries. The above extensions are being carried out by students as an OER-enabled pedagogy project, integrated in their more conventional educational activities. This strategy aims to reduce the deplorable waste of resources associated with “disposable” traditional assignments, at the same time challenging students to address real-world professional problems. The open material resulting from this latest iteration will be adopted, further evaluated, and hopefully enriched once again next year on a wider scale, demonstrating the feasibility of a self-sustainable process where students fully engage in iteratively improving and extending open resources, developing their professionality while benefiting the commons.