Analysis of Novices’ Web-Based Help-Seeking Behavior While Programming


Web-based help-seeking – finding and utilizing websites to solve a problem – is a critical skill during programming in both professional and academic settings. However, little work has explored how students, especially novices, engage in web-based help-seeking during programming, or what strategies they use and barriers they face. This study begins to investigate these questions through analysis of students web-search behaviors during programming. We collected think-aloud, screen recording, and log data as students completed a challenging programming task. Students were encouraged to use the web for help when needed, as if in an internship. We then qualitatively analyzed the data to address three research questions: 1) What events motivate students to use web search? 2) What strategies do students employ to search for, select, and learn from web pages? 3) What barriers do students face in web search, and when do they arise? Our results suggest that that novices use a variety of web-search strategies – some quite unexpected – with varying degrees of success, suggesting that web search can be a challenging skill for novice programmers. We discuss how these results inform future research and pedagogy focused on how to support students in effective web search.

Proceedings of the ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education