Saturday, February 04, 2006

Teaching Object Oriented programming

Today I decided I want to talk about one of the topics that constantly bug me: Object Oriented programming and people's conception of what it is about. Basically what I wish is that Universities and tech school started teaching Object Oriented programming in a different way. Why? Because I believe that most students today totally miss the point about Object Oriented programming. Even at Master level they still don't understand what it is about. And I blame the universities for this. Take my University College. I think it is the prime example of how to teach students Object Oriented programming in such a way that they just don't get it. I know that they didn't get it because I was the TA in the programming class and I helped the students with their programming assignments and corrected their hand inns. The first half of the year the University College taught C and the second half they taught Java. In the C classes they learned procedure oriented programming. In the Java classes they learned object oriented programming and GUI programming. Or so was the intention at least. Most of the hand ins I got were still procedure oriented. And that is my issue with Universities teaching object oriented programming to students using object oriented languages like Java. Students think that because they use an object oriented language their program automatically becomes object oriented! I remember having a discussion this year with a fellow student at the University of Utrecht. Unlike me he had been taught Java as the main programming language in University. My main programming language was C++. Now he was forced to learn C++, because of the project he was doing. He was going on about how much more powerful and modern java was than C++. I think it goes without saying that I think that is rubbish, but I am going to address that some other time. One thing he complained about in C++ was that it was not fully object oriented. As if being fully object oriented is some sort of quality stamp. The reason he gave was that not everything was classes. One could write functions that were not part of a class. Very sure of himself he said that in Java everything was object oriented. I said no, and that one can very well write programs in Java that are not object oriented. He protested loudly saying that was simply not possible, since everything had to belong to a class, there was no way you could write a program that was not object oriented. Which made it clear to me once again that even at Master level in Computer Science students don't understand that object oriented programming and procedure oriented programming are not programming language features but paradigms. Some languages have special support for certain paradigms but they do not force you to use that paradigm. All Java does by forcing you to declare your functions as methods in a class is to force your methods to reside in a namespace. It does not force you to follow the object oriented paradigm. To deal with these broad misconceptions I suggest that one starts teaching object oriented programming in a procedure oriented language like C. So that students will see clearly that Object Oriented programming is not a language feature but a style of programming and a way of thinking about programming problems. Then after students are familiar with object oriented programming in a procedure oriented language they should be taught a object oriented language so that it is made clear that these languages are merely there to make it easier to do object oriented programming because they have special language constructs that support the paradigm, not because they force you to think object oriented. Now you might already have been shaking your head for a long time, wondering what I am talking about. What is this guy talking about you might think. Object oriented programming in C!? That is not possible! Well I used to think that myself. Not at least owing to the fact that I wasn't taught what object oriented programming is properly at University either. But in the next post I will show how object oriented programming can be done in C.

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