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Department of Information Technology

Research project supported by the Swedish Research Council 2016 - 2018

HOPE - Hands-on in computer programming education: educational effects and brain processes

Teachers or students seldom question the importance of students' own active exploration for successful learning. By now, a body of research supports the claim that hands-on activities facilitate learning, not only of practical skills but also of declarative (conceptual) knowledge. However, the scientific basis for this and other proven pedagogical 'truths' are surprisingly weak. There are gaps in understanding how, when, and why practical hands-on learning has these positive effects (Minogue and Jones, 2006). We find it urgent to intensify research to fill these knowledge gaps since student passive forms of teaching are gaining new ground, e.g. in the form of web-based learning environments presenting video clips simulations and of topic specific talks that expect nothing more than watching and listening from the students.

In this project, researchers from education and neuroscience jointly engage in the exploration of the conditions of learning from hands-on experiences in upper secondary schools and universities. We focus on one study object; computer programming, to build a model of hands-on learning based on neural processes and behavioural mechanisms, in parallel with the authentic classroom experience. Computer-programming education is chosen as a model behavior for two reasons:

(i) it is a relevant representative for subjects where hands-on laboratory exercises constitute an import educational component and

(ii) it provides inbuilt possibilities of keeping track of students' actions.

It will enable us to systematically compare different aspects of hands-on learning of conceptual and practical knowledge, with learning hands-off through discussions and reading. To this end we will study novice students learning to program in three different research settings: through experiments in a computer lab, through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and in an authentic programming course.
The two overarching research questions are:

  • RQ1: How does hands-on influence students? learning of computer programming with regard to some aspects of relevance for learning outcome?
  • RQ2: How do students experience hands-on learning and its impact on their practical knowledge and conceptual understanding?

Thus, we explore hands-on learning from two perspectives: RQ1 addresses the attentional, emotional and motivational aspects of hands-on learning. RQ1 will be addressed with controlled brain imaging and behavioural experiments. In RQ2 a qualitative education research approach will be used where we address the question of how hands?on learning is experienced by students in an authentic classroom setting. The idea is that answers to the two research questions will mutually provide contexts and new perspectives to each other.


Researchers at UpCERG:
Anna Eckerdal principal investigator
Michael Thuné
Sara Bengtsson, Karolinska Institutet
Maria Weurlander, KTH

Updated  2015-12-21 16:40:50 by Anna Eckerdal.