Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

A Mixed-Methods Exploration of an Environment for Learning Computer Programming

Academic journal article Research in Learning Technology

A Mixed-Methods Exploration of an Environment for Learning Computer Programming

Article excerpt

Responsible Editor: Meg O'Reilly, Southern Cross University, Australia.

Copyright: © 2015 R. Mather. Research in Learning Technology is the journal of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), a UK-based professional and scholarly society and membership organisation. ALT is registered charity number 1063519. http://www.alt.ac.uk/. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Received : 6 January 2015; Accepted : 28 July 2015; Published : 28 August 2015

*Correspondence to: Email: Richard.Mather@bucks.ac.uk

Introduction

A raised profile for 'Computer Science' highlights challenges in learning to program

Primary and secondary school curricula in the United Kingdom are being revolutionised by the replacement of the ICT curriculum with computer science (Burns 2012; Department for Education 2013a, 2013b, 2013c). This is driven by government recognition of global shortages and gender imbalances in supplies of school leavers to higher education and in computer science graduates to industry. This important transformation is clearly building momentum under the auspices of the grassroots organisation 'Computing At Schools' and with the support from key professional, industry and academic bodies, such as Microsoft Research and the British Computer Society (Brown et al . 2013).

As a result of transformations in computing education, approaches to teaching computer programming at all levels of education are the subject of special review. Regarding technologies for teaching programming, a great variety of platforms are now available. Examples used for pedagogic comparisons, such as reported by Fincher, Cooper, and Maloney, 2010, include Scratch (Resnick et al . 2009), BlueJ (Kölling et al . 2003), Alice (Cooper, Dann, and Pausch 2000), Greenfoot (Henriksen and Kölling 2004) and Lego Mindstorms (Barnes 2002).

Programming is of particular concern to educators because it underpins computer sciences, yet is perceived to be a difficult to learn. As a consequence, it is not always an attractive option in schools (Brown et al . 2013) and often suffers from progression rates in degree courses (Milne and Rowe 2002; Robins, Rountree, and Rountree 2003).

University computing departments already make more extensive use of technology-enhanced-learning (TEL) tools than institutional norms (Jenkins et al . 2011). It therefore appears likely that the aforementioned introduction of new computer science curriculum for primary and secondary education will lead to the development of further learning platforms. Some of these, such as Ceebot (Huber 2008), will be available in modes and variants adapted to specific levels of education. One recent example is the 'Hakitzu' application for mobile and tablet deployment (Clifford 2013). Similarly to Ceebot, Hakitzu exploits the popularity of robotic and gaming themes in education environments.

Why evaluate platforms for learning programming in collaborative settings?

Although immersive environments for learning programming are clearly capable of delivering engaging experiences, it is of key interest to discover how they may be evaluated for their wider educational contribution in terms of collaborative learning opportunities, providing cues for discussion as well as for delivering conventional learning outcomes.

Systems analysts and requirements engineers who specialise in developing platforms that perform in collaborative environments fully understand that technical requirements cannot be isolated from their user-base. Button and Sharrock (1994) maintain that system requirements 'are enmeshed in organisational processes' and 'are not objective; they come from a point of view'. …

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