A Structured View of CS Education Research ?

Arnold Pears
Department of Information Technology
Uppsala University, Sweden


Computer Science (CS) is a relatively young discipline, and the area of CS education research is an infant in this discipline. To date most CS education research has been done in isolation, typically drawing on established scientific research practice. Practices and theories from the pedagogy area have been of little help for CS academics who want to do CS education research, partly as a result of existing perceptions of what are appropriate research approaches. This is an unfortunate situation, since both areas can gain from cross-fertilization and interdisciplinary cooperation. The CS education researcher can build a wider and more solid foundation for hers/his research and the educationalist gains a new study area, as well as some new perspectives on learning.

There are many ways to conduct CS education research and this talk focuses on studies of concrete educational settings. The rapidly changing conditions under which teaching is practiced are a reality for most CS academics and to understand the teaching and learning process in a concrete situation is a strong motivation factor for both current and future CS education researchers.

Traditional CS research methods are not applicable when seeking answers to a range of interesting questions about educational settings. Compounded with the perceived lack of objective measures and approaches with which to illuminate such questions, one finds many potential researchers in an uncertain situation. What aspects of the educational setting are involved? How should a meaningful investigation be designed ?

We present a framework, an applied research model, with the objective of providing CS academics with a structured overview of the interdisciplinary research components of CS education research. Several examples of using the framework will be discussed in order to demonstrate its applicability and versatility. It is argued that adopting such a framework has the potential to enhance the maturity, significance and applicability of CS education research studies by placing them in a more complete research context and promoting enhanced collaboration across disciplines, e.g. with educationalists as well as statisticians and behavioralists.

The framework can be used in many ways. Not only is it an aid in formulating research questions, but it can serve as a tool with which to structure information presented from other study contexts in order to better understand them. Additionally it provides support for the process of collecting and interpreting data. This helps to make the outcomes of ones own studies more readily transportable to other teaching and learning situations, and provides tools which one can apply to the work of others in order to gain a more userful picture of what was achieved.

One aim of publicizing the framework is to inspire and support the growing numbers of people who are becoming interested in CS education research. In addition we hope that the support for increased understanding of the research design issues and options that are typically involved will lead to increased research quality.

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