Title: Investigating Difficult Topics in a Data Structures Course Using Item Response Theory and Logged Data Analysis (paper 31)


We present an analysis of log data from a semester’s use of the OpenDSA eTextbook system with the goal of determining the most difficult course topics in a data structures course. While experienced instructors can identify which topics students most struggle with, this often comes only after much time and effort, and does not provide real-time analysis that might benefit an intelligent tutoring system. Our factors included the fraction of wrong answers given by student, results from Item Response Theory, and the rate of model answer and hint use by students. We grouped exercises by topic covered to yield a list of topics associated with the harder exercises. We found that a majority of these exercises were related to algorithm analysis topics. We compared our results to responses given by a sample of experienced instructors, and found that the automated results match the expert opinions reasonably well. We investigated reasons that might explain the over-representation of algorithm analysis among the difficult topics, and hypothesize that visualizations might help to better present this material.