Conversational programmers represent a class of learners who come from non-CS backgrounds and try to learn programming mainly to improve their participation in technical conversations. We carried out interviews with 23 conversational programmers (e.g., advertising manager, psychologist, library archivist) to better understand the challenges they face in technical conversations and their perceptions of learning programming. Among our key findings, we found that learning programming and consulting modern learning resources that focus on programming syntax and logic was not helpful for these learners as their end-goal was not to build artifacts and needed to understand concepts well enough to participate in technical conversations. Based on our findings, we used a user-centered design process to develop JargonAid, a community-curated online dictionary that allows authors to add simple explanations and example conversations for technical concepts. For our evaluation, we compared community-curated explanations in JargonAid with formal explanations (e.g., from textbooks, online documentation). We found that conversational programmers perceived community-curated explanations to be easier to understand, allowed them to maintain focus, and made them more confident about participating in follow-up conversations. We discuss the potential of using community-curated explanations as a learning tool for conversational programmers and reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of our approach.
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Thesis advisor: Chilana, Parmit
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