Learning Computing at University: Participation and Identity : A Longitudinal Study

Abstract: Computing education has struggled with student engagement and diversity in the student population for a long time. Research in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education suggests that taking a social, long-term perspective on learning is a fruitful approach to resolving some of these persistent challenges.A longitudinal study has been conducted, following students from two computing study programmes (CS/IT) over a three-year period. The students reflected on their experiences with CS/IT in a series of interviews. Drawing on social identity theory, the analysis has focused on describing participation in CS/IT, doing, thinking, feeling in relation to CS/IT, as negotiated among different people.Phenomenographic analysis yields an outcome space that describes increasingly broad ways in which the students experience participation in CS/IT over the years. Two further outcome spaces provide nuanced insights into experiences that are of increasing relevance as the students advance in their studies; participation as problem solving and problem solving for others. Problem solving defined as solving difficult (technical) problems seems predominate in the learning environment. Problem solving for others brings the user into perspective, but first in the human computer interaction (HCI) course in year three. Students react with scepticism to HCI, excluding HCI from computing, some are students who commenced their studies with broader interests in computing.Demonstrating (technical) problem solving competence is the most vital indicator competence in the two study programmes and the students adapt their reflections on who they are as computing students and professionals accordingly. People showing broader interests in computing risk being marginalised. I identify a gap between conceptions of computing as interdisciplinary and important for society and constructions of computing as technical. Closing the gap could improve retention and diversity, and result in graduates that are better prepared to contribute to societal development.