Cultivating Computer Programming Self-Efficacy Through Supportive Social and Self-Regulated Learning Strategies for First Year Students in Higher Education
Glanville, Graham Anthony
This research is centred on first year computer programming students enrolled on a BSc in Information Technology, within a private higher education institution in Dublin, Ireland. There are known challenges in learning computer programming, such as its abstract nature, the length of time it takes to grasp basic principles and the pre-existing perceptions students have of Computer Science programmes in general. Computer programming is associated with high drop-out rates and poor retention, and this research set out to investigate suitable tools and institutional supports that could be put in place to enhance engagement in learning computer programming. An initial review of the teaching and learning approaches for computer programming in the focus institution revealed the absence of group work, which was considered a counter-productive learning approach. In addition, no strategies for the self-regulation of learning were introduced to the students furthering the learning engagement problem. An action research methodology was identified as a suitable research approach because of its problem-focused orientation. Three research cycles were carried out between 2014 and 2016. The first two research cycles were based on the use of an individual reflective learning journal to be used in conjunction with computer programming. These studies revealed that many students did not derive any benefit from completing the learning journal, the activity became a mundane task with no obvious advantage, leading to a sense of frustration for some. What was evident from the findings within these first two research cycles was the desire for students to learn in groups, this led to research into social learning activities with a specific focus on group learning in computer programming. The third action research cycle involved a control and treatment group. The treatment group experienced social learning delivered through Problem Based Learning (PBL) and Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) interventions over the course of a semester. The findings revealed an encouraging response from the treatment group expressed through their enjoyment of working with others in solving problems, and positive engagement in programming was observed by faculty members. Emerging as a benefit, the treatment group enjoyed interacting and learning with their peers, irrespective of race, culture and diverse perspectives. This finding underscores the importance of introducing students to simulated multicultural work experiences reflective of the multicultural team environments found within the IT industry. In addition, there was a positive increase in students’ academic self-efficacy in group-based computer programming activities, but no strong evidence was found that social learning activities enhanced programming ability. The actions taken during this study have positively influenced faculty peers in the consideration of group learning for their subjects and influenced the focus institution to establish a Student Mentoring Academy, in which Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) is supported by student mentors. The recommendations are to consider social learning through the introduction of PBL and PAL related activities to facilitate student engagement and enhancement of self-efficacy. Further work is required to examine approaches and tools to build social learning capacity across the focus institution and in the identification, training and retention of suitable student mentors.
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