Group collaborative computer programming with the aid of a robot: Discovery-based learning



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The notion of discovery-based learning began in the early sixties (Bruner, 1961). Discovery-based learning has been considered an effective form of inquiry instruction particularly in a group learning environment because it allows students to construct knowledge by learning collaboratively from each other, become more active in the learning process, and gain ownership of their own learning (Bruner, 1961; Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005; Bell, 2003). This type of learning is not only meaningful learning it promotes lasting knowledge (Bruner, 1961; Barkley, Cross, & Major, 2005; Denzin & Lincoln, 1998). However, its effectiveness remains controversial (Louis, 2010; Ramadhan, 2000).
While teacher-led pedagogies dominate computer-programming research literature, this study sought to explore the influence of a group discovery-based pedagogy. This study provided a bridge between learning about computer programming and discovery based learning. Additionally, this study sought to expose the benefits of learning about computer programming with the aid of a novel learning platform, a robot. While working in small groups, forty students of two sections of an introductory computer course were observed and videotaped during a two-week computer programming learning activity. The goal of the learning activity was to have student groups “discover” computer programming concepts while attempting to program a robot to solve a problem.
The primary sources of research data were 900 minutes of group observation videotapes, over 100 participant interview transcriptions, and participant reflection papers. Carspecken’s (1996) methods were used for data coding. Data analysis netted five emergent themes which defined students’ characteristics and behaviors from learning in such an environment, namely, (1) frustrations from engaging with the learning aids, the robot and its remote controller, (2) frustrations from trying to understand the subject matter, computer programming, particularly modular programming, (3) prematurely celebrating success because they did not know what success really looked like, (4) not staying on course of the stated lab objective because they wanted to be more creative, to be challenged, and (5) dealing with adversity in team mates’ work ethic while constructing computer programming knowledge collaboratively. Based on findings and literature, this study provided strategic recommendations on how to mitigate the five aforementioned behaviors to further enhance learning in a group-collaborative discovery learning environment. Findings and recommendations from this study could be used by educators to implement a discovery-based pedagogical environment in their classroom, perhaps as a first course in computer programming. Findings could also provide a framework for future research. What is unknown is how much knowledge actually transferred in this discovery-based knowledge transference environment? Further research might provide validation of the effectiveness of the use of a group-collaborative, discovery-based knowledge transference environment on learning outcomes.



Collaboration, Discovery learning, Computer programming, Robotics, Qualitative, Cognitive scaffolding