School of ICT

Author Profiles

Graham is Dean of School at CCT College Dublin and Head of the CCT Centre for Teaching and Learning. In these capacities, he provides a leading role in the overall programmatic and academic development of the College and in the enhancement of institutional teaching and learning. More on Graham at:

Original Source

Computer Science Education, 26 (2-3): 148-175

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Programming is an essential skill that all computing students must master. However programming can be difficult to learn. Compiler error messages are crucial for correcting errors, but are often difficult to understand and pose a barrier to progress for many novices. High frequencies of errors, particularly repeated errors, have been shown to be indicators of students who are struggling with learning to program. This study involves a custom IDE that enhances Java compiler error messages, intended to be more useful to novices than those supplied by the compiler. The effectiveness of this approach was tested in an empirical control/intervention study of approximately 200 students generating almost 50,000 errors. The design allows for direct comparisons between enhanced and non-enhanced error messages. Results show that the intervention group experienced reductions in the number of overall errors, errors per student, and several repeated error metrics. This work is important for two reasons. First, the effects of error message enhancement have been recently debated in the literature. This study provides substantial evidence that it can be effective. Second, these results should be generalizable at least in part, to other programming languages, students and institutions, as we show that the control group of this study is comparable to several others using Java and other languages.