Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Studying Computer Science in a Multidisciplinary Degree Programme: Freshman Students' Orientation, Knowledge, and Background

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Studying Computer Science in a Multidisciplinary Degree Programme: Freshman Students' Orientation, Knowledge, and Background

Article excerpt


Teachers and lecturers at universities are facing an increasing disparity in students' prior IT knowledge, skills and abilities (Meredyth, Russel, Blackwood, Thomas, & Wise, 1999) and at the same time experience a growing disengagement of the students with regard to active involvement in study activities (McInnis, James, & Hartley, 2000; McInnis, James, & McNaught, 1995).

The authors of these reports discuss these issues on a broad level with no regard to any specific degree programme. As computer science and information system development teachers in a joint bachelor and master programme in computer science and business administration, during the last three years we made a number of similar observations, first of all the students' decreasing efforts in computer science subjects both in terms of preparation and active participation in lectures and exercises. We also noted increasing difficulties with mathematics related topics. Simultaneously we are seeing a growing number of students with previous knowledge in computer science, while others have little or no expertise in this area. These observations cause problems and present a major challenge for teachers in their daily educational practice. Questions arise which ask, if students are arriving at university with pre-existing skills and knowledge and a decreasing engagement in study work, what impact does this have on the everyday business of teaching and how can these changed conditions been taken into account when (re-)designing teaching programmes?

A review of literature related to IT and computer science education showed that beyond the continuous curriculum debate (e.g. Denning, 1992; Denning, Comer, Gries, Mulder, Tucker, Turner & Young, 1989; Kautz, 1996; Samaka, 2002) and especially the significant role of mathematics in this context (Beaubouef, 2002; Dijkstra, 1989; Gries, 1991), little attention is paid to these matters by IT education scholars. Thus, to get a better understanding and as a prerequisite for developing countermeasures and for reforming both course contents, structure and pedagogical approaches we investigated disengagement and the disparity in prior IT knowledge of computer science and IT students by posing four research questions:

1. What are the students' motives and expectations with regard to the chosen study programme?

2. To what extent are the students engaged in non-academic work activities?

3. What prior knowledge do the students have about IT and computer science?

4. What off campus access do the students have to IT facilities?

We believe that beyond ourselves the answers to these questions might give others in comparable settings a basis for reflection and action. The results may be used to inform future curriculum design, including teaching and learning strategies in computer science programmes.

The remainder of the article is organised as follows. In the next section we introduce the Computer Science and Business Administration Bachelor and Master degree programme which builds the background for our research and then describe our research approach. Thereafter we present and discuss our research results and finish the article with some conclusions and summarize questions for possible future research.

Research Background

Our research is based on a single case study. Knowledge gained through case studies might not be formally generalizable, but this does not mean that it does not contribute to the collective body of knowledge of a discipline (Flyvberg, 1992) and can therefore be informative and useful. To give the readers the necessary context for their own assessments as to whether our findings are applicable to their situation we describe the sample case organisation in more detail here.

The research took place at the Copenhagen Business School, an independent business university in Denmark. …

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