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Software and engineering books often offer the most complex solutions to complex problems.
But a new study finds that most of the software and engineering textbooks are flawed in their solutions, which make the books more likely to fail than to succeed.
The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at more than 4,000 software engineering books and found that nearly two-thirds had errors or problems in their content, compared with fewer than half in the other two groups.
This suggests that there is something fundamentally flawed in the underlying technology underpinning the software or engineering books, said study author Dr Andrew Denton, a lecturer in mechanical engineering at the University of Bristol.
“These books are probably the least likely to work,” he said.
The researchers used data from the American Federation of Teachers’ Teacher Ratings Survey to calculate a measure of whether a textbook was good or bad for teaching software and how often it was used.
The survey asked students to rate a book on five levels: its usefulness, its difficulty, its effectiveness, its content, and its accessibility.
In the United States, teachers rated books on four scales: how useful it was, how much it was useful, how difficult it was to learn, and how much effort was needed to learn it.
The authors then calculated how many students in each group were likely to have learned a software or software engineering book in a year.
The results show that most software and software engineering textbooks were at least moderately helpful and some were very useful, the researchers found.
But only around one-third of them were very good, and only about one-fifth of them would be useful if they were written in a different language.
They also found that about one in five books were actually bad.
The students were also asked to rate the accuracy of the books, as well as the extent to which the texts were easy to read and understand.
The researchers found that, on average, the books were accurate to an average of 97 per cent.
The books that were rated as not helpful were generally less accurate than the textbooks that were helpful.
“What we found is that there are books that are just as bad or worse than the books that they are supposed to be teaching,” said study co-author Dr Andrew Wills, from the University at Buffalo, New York.
“There’s a tendency for the students to give a book a poor rating because they’re looking for a more accurate and reliable book to learn in the future.”
The authors found that the quality of a book is more important than the number of students it’s taught to, or the language it’s written in.
“A teacher’s report on a computer-programming book can be viewed here.
The report also found a significant number of books with questionable content, including books about programming that didn’t include any software code or a software engineer who had never worked in that field.”
“They looked at the textbooks from the US Department of Education and found many of the titles were wrong.””
He said the problem may be linked to the fact that many of these books have been written in the past.””
They looked at the textbooks from the US Department of Education and found many of the titles were wrong.”
He said the problem may be linked to the fact that many of these books have been written in the past.
“We’re not seeing textbooks coming from the same universities, but there are probably a few that are in the same university library,” he added.
“So they are the same books that have been studied before.”
But Dr Wills said the authors were cautious in making the link between coding errors and software errors, pointing out that many students had already seen a textbook that did contain coding errors.
“There are a lot of other reasons why students are more likely than others to be in a position to learn a book,” he explained.
“Some of these errors may have been introduced because students have not been exposed to software engineering or software coding.”
Dr Denton said that there were many good books that did not include coding errors, but he said it was possible that there may be a subset of books that could be called coding errors that were not.
“It’s not the case that all textbooks are bad,” he warned.
“If there are some books that people want to learn because they have a technical background, I’m sure there’s a good way to get them into a good school,” Dr Will said.
“I think it’s important that we teach the subject and not just the content,” he continued.
“We need to understand that the subject of software engineering is actually really hard.
It’s not that there’s no way to learn to code, it’s just that we don’t have enough resources to make that happen.”