Istituto per le Tecnologie Didattiche     
Olimpo G. The robot brothers: an environment for learning parallel programming oriented to computer education. In: Computers & Education, vol. 12 (1) pp. 113 - 118. Pergamon Press, 1988.
Computer Education is conceived as a process aimed at developing high level intellectual skills (problem solving, communication, independent learning, etc.) by an increasing number of people. In many cases this conception has been implemented by transferring models and methodologies originally belonging to the curricula of computer science specialists to the field of computer education. The paper offers a contribution to this process by considering the educational value of parallel programming, a subject well known to the specialists and well developed from the theoretical standpoint. The underlying hypothesis is that parallel programming can influence the capability to cope with real problems by adding a new dimension (the parallelism) to the learners' mental representations, based on the observation that most actual systems, not only computer systems, usually consist of some or many parallel activities (processes) cooperating (and often interfering) more or less intentionally to reach a goal. Handling aspects of parallel programming such as time dependence, interference, deadlock, and synchronization can be made approachable and even pleasant by means of a suitable learning environment. The environment developed, the Robot Brothers, consists of two or more Karel-like robots whose operations may be programmed by writing a concurrent program in Pascal. To make this possible a set of robot control primitives have been embedded in the language. The environment has been implemented in UCSD Pascal and uses the semaphore as the only synchronization device. Problems of increasing complexity introducing the various aspects of parallel programming are discussed and the behaviour of the environment is described in some detail. Possible developments include the introduction of more structured synchronization tools (monitors, path expressions) and an approach to concurrent programming based upon message exchange among processes.
DOI: 10.1016/0360-1315(88)90064-4
Subject Education

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