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ODU faculty members win NSF Grant to investigate pair programming

A team of Old Dominion University faculty members recently has received a three-year grant of $300,000 from the National Science Foundation to investigate whether pair programming, a collaborative form of programming in which two students work side-by-side on one computer, impacts the performance and retention of students with diverse learning needs.

The National Science Foundation has a long history of investing in efforts to broaden the participation of groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

"Our project will contribute to a better understanding of pair programming on students with diverse learning needs and serve to develop and diversify the nation's computing workforce," said Wu He, associate professor of information technology in the Strome College of Business and a principal investigator on the grant.

Other investigators include Li Xu, eminent scholar and professor of information technology at ODU's Strome College of Business; Silvana Watson, professor of communication disorders and special education, and Shana Pribesh, associate professor of educational research, in the Darden College of Education, and Debra Major, eminent scholar and professor of psychology in the College of Sciences.

Information technology is one of the fastest-growing areas of job growth. Wu said the United States must increase the number of students receiving degrees to remain competitive in the computing disciplines.

"This increase must occur across all segments of our population, but it is particularly important among those groups that historically have not participated at high rates: minorities, women and persons with disabilities," he said.

"The underrepresentation of students with disabilities in computing and other STEM areas is the result of our hidden bias," said Watson. "When provided with accommodations, the 'playing field is leveled,' and individuals with disabilities can demonstrate their creativity, their unique perspective, their critical thinking skills and contribute to the future of technology and shape the future of our country."

This effort dovetails with ODU Office of Research's strategic initiative in Broadening Participation in STEM-H. A multidisciplinary group of faculty members has created a researcher database and listserv, hosted networking events, invited speakers to campus and worked with campus constituent groups for better access to critical data.

Updates on the group's activities and information about getting involved are available at https://www.odu.edu/facultystaff/research2/strategic-plan/participation.

"This collaborative grant award is the type of effort the Broadening Participation in STEM-H initiative was designed to catalyze. We expect to see significant growth in this research area at ODU," Major said.

In pair programming, two programmers work together at one computer, with one writing code while the other watches, comments and reviews. To study pair interaction, participants in the project will engage in collaborative problem solving. Partners will complete 10 programming activities with two different partners, switching their roles every 10 minutes. Student learning outcomes will be measured through programming exercises, assignments and midterm and final exam grades.

Results could be applied from kindergarten through high school and increase the likelihood that students will follow the path to computing careers.

"This project will contribute to a better understanding of pair programming and improve my own classroom practices in a way that enhances students' learning in programming languages," Wu said.

Austin Agho, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said, "The findings of this study will inform how we create an inclusive environment for all students. I commend you for adopting an interdisciplinary approach in your investigation."

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