A mixed-methods exploration of an environment for learning computer programming

Richard Mather

Abstract

A mixed-methods approach is evaluated for exploring collaborative behaviour, acceptance and progress surrounding an interactive technology for learning computer programming. A review of literature reveals a compelling case for using mixed-methods approaches when evaluating technology-enhanced-learning environments. Here, ethnographic approaches used for the requirements engineering of computing systems are combined with questionnaire-based feedback and skill tests. These are applied to the ‘Ceebot’ animated 3D learning environment. Video analysis with workplace observation allowed detailed inspection of problem solving and tacit behaviours. Questionnaires and knowledge tests provided broad sample coverage with insights into subject understanding and overall response to the learning environment. Although relatively low scores in programming tests seemingly contradicted the perception that Ceebot had enhanced understanding of programming, this perception was nevertheless found to be correlated with greater test performance. Video analysis corroborated findings that the learning environment and Ceebot animations were engaging and encouraged constructive collaborative behaviours. Ethnographic observations clearly captured Ceebot’s value in providing visual cues for problem-solving discussions and for progress through sharing discoveries. Notably, performance in tests was most highly correlated with greater programming practice (p≤0.01). It was apparent that although students had appropriated technology for collaborative working and benefitted from visual and tacit cues provided by Ceebot, they had not necessarily deeply learned the lessons intended. The key value of the ‘mixed-methods’ approach was that ethnographic observations captured the authenticity of learning behaviours, and thereby strengthened confidence in the interpretation of questionnaire and test findings.

Keywords: evaluation; mixed methods; video analysis; computer programming

(Published: 28 August 2015)

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

Citation: Research in Learning Technology 2015, 23: 27179 - http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/rlt.v23.27179

Keywords

evaluation; mixed methods; video analysis; computer programming

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