A Comparison of Inquiry-Based Conceptual Feedback vs. Traditional Detailed Feedback Mechanisms in Software Testing Education: An Empirical Investigation

Lucas Cordova, Jeffrey Carver, Gursimran Walia, Noah Gershmel

The feedback provided by current testing education tools about the deficiencies in a student's test suite either mimics industry code coverage tools or lists specific instructor test cases that are missing from the student's test suite. While useful in some sense, these types of feedback are akin to revealing the solution to the problem, which can inadvertently encourage students to pursue a trial-and-error approach to testing, rather than using a more systematic approach that encourages learning. In addition to not teaching students why their test suite is inadequate, this type of feedback may motivate students to become dependent on the feedback rather than thinking for themselves. To address this deficiency, there is an opportunity to investigate alternative feedback mechanisms that include a positive reinforcement of testing concepts. We argue that using an inquiry-based learning approach is better than simply providing the answers. To facilitate this type of learning, we present Testing Tutor, a web-based assignment submission platform that supports different levels of testing pedagogy via a customizable feedback engine. We evaluated the impact of the different types of feedback through an empirical study in two sophomore-level courses. We use Testing Tutor to provide students with different types of feedback, either traditional detailed code coverage feedback or inquiry-based learning conceptual feedback, and compare the effects. The results show that students that receive conceptual feedback had higher code coverage (by different measures), fewer redundant test cases, and higher programming grades than the students who receive traditional code coverage feedback.

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