Mixed-methods study of the impact of a computational thinking course on student attitudes about technology and computation.
The following dissertation reports on a mixed-methods, convergent parallel design research study of the impact of a computational thinking curriculum on attitudes towards computation and the use of technology. This study used a new curriculum in computational thinking recently developed through a National Science Foundation (NFS) Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computer Education (CPATH) grant as the intervention. The purpose of this one-semester course is to introduce computational thinking to undergraduate students who are not computer science majors. This course is intended to engage a broad range of students, including those not ordinarily accustomed to using computation as a problem solving tool.
The treatment group was represented by twenty-two students randomly selected from an information technology course. The traditional curriculum for this information technology course was modified to include topics from the computational thinking curriculum. Topics included problem abstraction and decomposition, understanding fundamental programming concepts, and appreciating the practical and theoretical limits of computation. Those students enrolled in the information technology course, not selected for the treatment group, used as the comparison group. All students in the study took a computer anxiety survey at the beginning and end of the semester. The participants also completed frequent surveys to report on their level of anxiety and insights into the efficacy of the instructional methods being used in the classroom. In addition to the survey data, the participants’ weekly lab reports were included in the qualitative data collected about the use of computational thinking strategies in problem solving. Finally, semi-structured interviews were conducted with each member of the treatment group to gain insight into how they used technology before receiving formal training in computational thinking.
The qualitative data were encoded and analyzed for evidence of the course's impact on the participants' attitudes towards and application of computational strategies in problem solving. This study found that when students participate in a computational thinking course there is in increase in the use of computational strategies in problem solving, an increase in positive affect towards computational thinking and a decrease in computer anxiety.