Learning How to Debug: Productive (and not so Productive) Interactions in the Classroom
Virginia Flood

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Berkeley

Primary Discipline

In my dissertation, I investigate how students learn to debug computer programs through interactions with more-experienced peers and instructors during a summer programming course. As demand for programming literacy increases, we still know surprisingly little about how programming is learned in face-to-face interactions. Debugging is an integral, challenging part of programming and consists of a set of practices that are often not explicitly taught. Instead, these practices are passed down through informal interactions with more experienced programmers. Involving abstract objects and processes, debugging is also extremely difficult to communicate to newcomers and requires situated, embodied communicational methods like gesture to make ideas publicly available. However, education research on debugging has left these complex interactions between newcomers and more experienced programmers unexamined. Using video recordings of peer-to-peer and student-instructor debugging encounters, my microethnographic study addresses this gap in our knowledge by examining both in-the-moment and longitudinal processes of learning to debug through social interaction. Informed by cultural-historical and ethnomethodological approaches to learning as a situated, social activity, I will illuminate how opportunities to learn to debug are enabled or constrained over the course of single debugging encounters and how students’ debugging practices change over time across multiple encounters. By identifying and characterizing productive and unproductive forms of interaction for learning to debug, my study will inform the design of programming learning experiences and have implications for instructional practices.
About Virginia Flood
Virginia J. Flood is a Ph.D. candidate in Education at the University of California, Berkeley. She investigates the fine details of the interactional methods and resources that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) students and instructors use to understand one another while working together in technology-rich learning environments. Prior to her doctoral work, Virginia earned a B.S. in Biochemistry at the University of Southern Maine and a Master of Science in Teaching degree at the University of Maine. At UC Berkeley, she received a Berkeley Fellowship and a Research in Cognition and Mathematics Education Fellowship to support her graduate work. Virginia’s current research aims to better understand how learning to program and debug computers is socially organized, with a focus on the specific roles that forms of embodied communication like gesture play in this process. She is a proud member of the Embodied Design Research Laboratory at UC Berkeley, the Co-Operative Action Lab at UCLA, and the Debugging Failure project.

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