Knowledge restructuring and the development of expertise in computer programming
This thesis reports a number of empirical studies exploring the development of expertise in computer programming. Experiments 1 and 2 are concerned with the way in which the possession of design experience can influence the perception and use of cues to various program structures. Experiment 3 examines how violations to standard conventions for constructing programs can affect the comprehension of expert, intermediate and novice subjects. Experiment 4 looks at the differences in strategy that are exhibited by subjects of varying skill level when constructing programs in different languages. Experiment 5 takes these ideas further to examine the temporal distribution of different forms of strategy during a program generation task. Experiment 6 provides evidence for salient cognitive structures derived from reaction time and error data in the context of a recognition task. Experiments 7 and 8 are concerned with the role of working memory in program generation and suggest that one aspect of expertise in the programming domain involves the acquisition of strategies for utilising display-based information. The final chapter attempts to bring these experimental findings together in terms of a model of knowledge organisation that stresses the importance of knowledge restructuring processes in the development of expertise. This is contrasted with existing models which have tended to place emphasis upon schemata acquisition and generalisation as the fundamental modes of learning associated with skill development. The work reported here suggests that a fine-grained restructuring of individual schemata takes places during the later stages of skill development. It is argued that those mechanisms currently thought to be associated with the development of expertise may not fully account for the strategic changes and the types of error typically found in the transition between novice, intermediate and expert problem solvers. This work has a number of implications for existing theories of skill acquisition. In particular, it questions the ability of such theories to account for subtle changes in the various manifestations of skilled performance that are associated with increasing expertise. Secondly, the work reported in this thesis attempts to show how specific forms of training might give rise to the knowledge restructuring process that is proposed. Finally, the thesis stresses the important role of display-based problem solving in complex tasks such as programming and highlights the role of programming language notation as a mediating factor in the development and acquisition of problem solving strategies.