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A Student's View of Concurrency : A Study of Common Mistakes in Introductory Courses on Concurrency

By Filip Strömbäck, Linda Mannila, Mikael Asplund and Mariam Kamkar


This paper investigates common misconceptions held by students regarding concurrency in order to better understand how concurrency education can be improved in the future. As a part of the exam in two courses on concurrency and operating systems, students were asked to identify and eliminate any concurrency issues in a piece of code as a part of their final exam. Different types of mistakes were identified and the 216 answers were sorted into categories accordingly. The results presented in this paper show that while most students were able to identify the cause of an issue given its symptoms, only approximately half manage to successfully eliminate the concurrency issues. Many of the incorrect solutions fail to associate shared data with a synchronization primitive, e.g. using one lock to protect multiple instances of a data structure, or multiple locks to protect the same instance in different situations. This suggests that students may not only have trouble dealing with concepts related to concurrency, but also more fundamental concepts related to the underlying computational model. Finally, this paper proposes possible explanations for the students' mistakes in terms of improper mental models, and suggests types of problems that highlight the issues with these mental models to improve students' understanding of the subject

Topics: computer science education, concurrency, mental models, synchronization, Computer and Information Sciences, Data- och informationsvetenskap, Learning, Lärande
Publisher: 'Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)'
Year: 2019
DOI identifier: 10.1145/3291279.3339415
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