Faculty Publications

Learning Computer Science: Perceptions, Actions And Roles

Document Type



Experience of failure, Phenomenography, Student learning difficulties

Journal/Book/Conference Title

European Journal of Engineering Education





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This phenomenographic study opens the classroom door to investigate teachers' experiences of students learning difficult computing topics. Three distinct themes are identified and analysed. Why do students succeed or fail to learn these concepts? What actions do teachers perceive will ameliorate the difficulties facing students? Who is responsible, and for what, in the learning situation? Theoretical work on threshold concepts and conceptual change deals with mechanisms and processes associated with learning difficult material [Meyer, J. and Land, R., 2005. Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (2): epistemological considerations and a conceptual framework for teaching and learning. Higher Education, 49 (3), 373-388; Entwistle, N., 2007. Conceptions of learning and the experience of understanding: thresholds, contextual influences, and knowledge objects. In: S. Vosniadou, A. Baltas and X. Vamvakoussi, eds. Re-framing the conceptual change approach in learning and instruction. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier, chap. 11]. With this work as a background, we concentrate on the perceptions of teachers. Where do teachers feel that the difficulties lie when studying the troublesome knowledge in computing? Student and teacher-centric views of teaching reported in other literature are also to be seen in our results. The first two categories in the 'what' and 'who' themes are teacher-centric. Higher level categories in all themes show increasingly learner centred conceptions of the instructional role. However, the nature of the categories in the 'why' theme reveals a new dimension dealing with teacher beliefs specific to the nature of troublesome knowledge in computing. A number of prior studies in tertiary teaching concentrate on approaches to teaching [Trigwell, K. and Prosser, M., 2004. Development and use of the approaches to teaching inventory. Educational Psychology Review, 16 (4), 409-424], and attitudes to scholarship of teaching and learning [Ashwin, P. and Trigwell, K., 2004. Investigating educational development. In: Making sense of staff and educational development, 117-131]. Our focus on learning difficult topics extends this work, investigating teacher conceptions of causality in relation to learning difficulties. We argue that teacher conceptions of enabling factors, for learning difficult computing topics, can act to limit the nature and scope of academics' pedagogical responses. Improved awareness of teacher's beliefs regarding student learning difficulties both extends and complements existing efforts to develop a more student-centred computing pedagogy. © 2009 SEFI.


Department of Computer Science

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