The development of a new systematic method based on activity systems that analyses the activity of learning programming

Kheir Abadi, Maryam (2012) The development of a new systematic method based on activity systems that analyses the activity of learning programming. (PhD thesis), Kingston University,


The activity of learning programming languages is a difficult and complex process. During this complicated procedure, many problems and difficulties might occur. A straightforward and clear approach, which can help to break down the numerous interacting processes into a series of simpler components, would appear useful. Therefore, the main aim of this research is to design and develop an appropriate method that can meet these criteria. The new method offers a new systematic approach for collecting, modelling and analysing data to discover difficulties within the activity of learning programming. Thus, to achieve these aims, the research work commenced with an investigation into the existing variety of frameworks and methodologies, which have been used in Information Technology (IT). The initial research showed that there are many suitable approaches that have been previously used in the IT field. However, most of these do not offer any clear pathway for collecting and analysing the data from beginning to end of the research process. To address these issues, Activity Theory (AT) has been chosen to be used as an initial framework for the study. AT has been selected due to the nature of the topic being examined. There are several communities involved in the process of learning programming, including students, lecturers, technicians and teaching assistants. AT allows for a holistic consideration of the multiple perspectives involved. In addition, the solid ontology of AT assists with the breakdown of complicated environments into simpler units. However, AT does not specify any particular research methodology that should be used. As a result, an appropriate approach has to be identified and coupled with AT in order to create a new systematic method. The following research methodologies are considered: Action Research (AR), Grounded Theory (GT) and Phenomenography (Ph). It is concluded that GT offers the best approach to complement the use of AT in the context of examining the activity of learning programming languages. Consequently, an initial method has been created by combining AT and GT, which has been used to collect and analyse test cases to investigate whether this combination is effective. After using this initial procedure, changes and improvements were made to create a revised method which has been used to collect and analyse a larger set of data. The results of this research, using three type of case studies of responses from the individual students, focus groups including staff, and observation of the activities in workshop sessions, demonstrated the benefits of the method developed. It was found out that this systematic approach facilitated the process of collecting and analysing the data. In turn, this enabled the discovery of contradictions within the activity of learning programming and the proposed of shifts to solve them. Although this method was tested on first-year students at Kingston University, it is potentially generic, allowing it to be considered for use in other similar domains.

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