Amy Ko awarded $1.7 million for research to improve coding skills

Information School Associate Professor Amy Ko recently was awarded a pair of grants totaling more than $1.7 million for research into improving how developers, both novices and experts, learn programming languages, APIs, and problem solving skills.

A $549,000 grant from the National Science Foundation will fund Ko’s research into ways to personalize instruction for people learning to code. With millions of people worldwide trying to learn to code, there’s a significant unmet need for instruction and meaningful feedback. As a result, many give up when they run into roadblocks. The project led by Ko will use new techniques from machine learning, software engineering, and natural language processing to model what students know and produce personalized content that helps them learn.

Meanwhile, Ko is also part of a research team that received a separate $1.2 million grant from the NSF to investigate software programming strategies. The project, co-led by Ko and Thomas LaToza of George Mason University, will develop a science of how software developers solve programming problems, ultimately producing a software engineering handbook that contains the skills a developer needs to know to be an expert.

“The two grants together represent my larger goal of trying to define what it means to know how to code, and invent more rapid and effective ways to learn these skills,” Ko said.

The funding will support several doctoral students, as well as funding numerous studies, travel to conferences to present research, and production of research prototypes to share with the public.