I have three key areas that I would plan to focus research over the next two years:
The first of these has its roots in my enduring interest in the teaching and learning of computer programming since my earliest teaching posts in schools in 1977 to my recent supervision of PhDs in the area. The second arises from the programming activity I have been engaged in since 1980 when leading teams to develop educational software, resulting in an interest in collaborative development as a goal and a vehicle for learning programming. The third is related to my ownership and development of the UK National Archive of Educational Computing, which particularly demands a wider interdisciplinary approach.
Each has relevance to current demands on the education system in Ireland, the UK and elsewhere to develop knowledge with regard to programming and computational thinking.
Relatively little research has been conducted into conceptual development in computational thinking for school age pupils, most work has been done in the context of higher education. The research that has been carried out in higher education naturally focuses on those able enough to enter university and choosing to study programming. This means that there is a gap in knowledge in understanding more generally how the whole population of learners at school age develop conceptually in this subject.
This kind of research was first carried out at scale in the Concepts in Secondary Mathematics and Science project (CSMS), carried out in the 1980s to establish what can be understood at what stage of maturity in science and mathematics. An online partnership with active school teachers offers the opportunity to establish such knowledge at much lower cost and with longitudinal update as effectiveness of pedagogy is developed.
I plan to establish a programme of research which follows an updated methodology to the CSMS research. The research would identify the concepts learnt in studying computing, construct test items to measure attainment and then invite school teachers to test their students and finally collate and share the data to illustrate the diversity and range of attainment in conceptual understanding across the primary and secondary sectors. The outcomes would inform practitioners who would become less dependent on diverse tacit knowledge and better informed by evidence.
School education tends to emphasise individual endeavour, assessment through examination and work with pen and paper. For those who leave formal education for jobs in the IT industry, a working knowledge and a solid experience of team approaches and the lifecycle of projects is a necessity. Thus it is clear that learning programming, with its mix of knowledge, strategies, skills and attitudes deserves a richer pedagogy. The kind of explicit, taught and supported procedures, such as can be found in the Bridge21 model, are an area I would plan to develop online, to add to the tools for managing collaborative programming. This research may be conducted through a creative PhD / Masters student under my supervision.
This focus for research is to discover and represent the history of the development of technology to support education. As waves of technology innovation, curriculum reform and societal change sweep over the education scene, past efforts to use technology to enhance learning quickly become obsolete and forgotten, however successful they were and with little regard for the lessons learnt from failed approaches. The research needed is part ethnographic and part technical. Its outcomes need to serve the research & development community and wider society.
To be done properly, this needs an interdisciplinary approach combining knowledge management, historical interpretation, artefact management, representation and educational knowledge. I think this could very well be expanded to take a UK / Ireland or even European approach in collaboration with others who share this interest in the School of Computer Science and Statistics and elsewhere. I believe the research should explore and use the latest techniques of the semantic web to improve its usefulness to inform innovators of past efforts and lessons learnt.
This work has already begun and there is a web site to promote it. I have made two bids to the UK National Heritage Lottery Fund. Although they have turned down the bids I have made so far, further funding applications have been encouraged. I have registered with the Trinity College Dublin HORIZON 2020 Interdisciplinary Research Brokerage/Matchmaking Event that is being organised for 12th September to pursue this focus.￼