This study examined how program visualization tools affect Advanced Placement Computer Science students' understanding of abstract programming concepts. A literature review was conducted to determine if program visualization is effective and which students benefit from it the most. The findings were used to design a causal comparative study in which students would experience instruction with and without program visualization. The study took place in an AP Computer Science course during the first challenging unit about an abstract concept: loops. Participants (n = 24) were selected using convenience sampling and were assessed before, during, and after the study took place. While it was difficult to reach to any significant conclusions about program visualization's effect on student understanding as a whole, there were several conclusions that could be made about different groups of students. The results suggested that math confidence is a factor in the effectiveness of program visualization and there appeared to be a similar trend with ethnicity. There was also significant evidence that program visualization is most effective for students who are not considered high or low achieving. These results provide insight into how computer science teachers can create lessons using program visualization that are meaningful for all students and for specific groups in particular.


Carrie Chapman

Committee Member

Kathleen Foord

Committee Member

Qijie Cai

Date of Degree




Document Type



Master of Science (MS)



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License



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