Book Review: Computer Science Education Research


By Chris Douce

Computer Science Education Research

edited by Sally Fincher and Marian Petre
Taylor & Francis, 2004
ISBN 90-265-1969-9

This is a book of two halves. The first, entitled 'the field and the endeavour' maps the territory of computer science education research and presents the notions of research and methdological approaches that are available to practitioners (the ways to travel through the territory).

The first half provides a broad overview of how to 'find things out' and discusses benefits (and potential pitfalls) of various approaches.

The second half is a set of papers that comprise a 'sample' of some of the various types of research approaches that CS education reseachers have at their disposal.

The first section is like a big 'science prologue' that prepares the stage in preparation for an investigative performance that comprises, of course, the papers. It is a performance that works very successfully.

Papers explore the misconceptions that can interfere with programming education, the use of critical enquiry, and the use of programming environments for novice (a topic that was discussed at some length at this years PPIG event). These sit amongst other papers that explore the processes behind the acquision of design skills, and the role that algorithm visualisation could play in CS education.

There is a paper that is theory rich (Rist), describing the area of schema theory and its applicability to the task of learning to program. Complementing this is another that describes a range set of related empirical studies (Stasko and Hundhausen).

Not every paper is to my taste, but this is a reflection upon my methdological upbringing (engineering) rather than the papers themselves. I consider it a fine idea to present papers that use different methodological approaches together in a single volume. In doing so researchers from different disciplines can begin to understand where a certain group of researchers are coming from, thus allowing a whole area of unfamiliar literature to become that little bit more accessible.

I can see myself reaching to the first section on a number of occasions. I can immediately think of two reasons. The first is to remind myself of the breadth of available approaches that there may be at my disposal. When one has ones nose in a particular vein of thought, it is wonderful to be reminded of the the other veins just by raising ones head by a few degrees. Secondly, and importantly the first chapter will help me question the appropriateness of any of my research objectives.

I particularly like the notion of an 'academic trading zone' which the editors present. This is an area where two different areas of enquiry can intersect and learn from each other. It reminds me of what was written earlier regarding the last PPIG conference: the only way to construct a complete collage is to see what interesting bits and pieces other people may have at their disposal.

All in all, I firmly recommend. Packed full of illuminating quotes and a good set of instructive guidelines, with a fine selection of papers to match.

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