Ph.D. Defense of Dissertation: Michael Hewner

Event Details
  • Date/Time:
    • Friday November 2, 2012
      1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
  • Location: TSRB 132
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Michael Hewner


Summary Sentence: Student Conceptions About the Field of Computer Science

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Title: Student Conceptions About the Field of Computer Science

Michael Hewner
Human-Centered Computing
School of Interactive Computing
College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: Friday, November 2, 2012
Time: 1:00-4:00pm
Location: TSRB 132


  • Prof. Mark Guzdial (Advisor, College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
  • Prof. Amy Bruckman (College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
  • Prof. Keith Edwards (College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
  • Prof. Ellen Zegura (College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology)
  • Prof. Yasmin Kafai (School of Graduate Education, University of Pennsylvania)

Computer Science is a complex field, and even experts do not always agree how the field should be defined. Though a moderate amount is known about how precollege students think about the field of CS, less is known about how CS majors’ conceptions of the field develop during the undergraduate curriculum.  Given the difficulty of understanding CS, how do students make educational decisions like what electives or specializations to pursue?

This work presents a theory of student conceptions of CS, based on 37 interviews with students and student advisers and analyzed with a grounded theory approach.  Students tend to have one of three main views about CS: CS as an academic discipline focused on the mathematical study of algorithms, CS as mostly about programming but also incorporating supporting subfields, and CS as a broad discipline with many different (programming and non-programming) subfields.  I have also developed and piloted a survey instrument to determine how prevalent each kind of conception in the undergraduate population.

I also present a theory of student educational decisions in CS. Students do not usually have specific educational goals in CS and instead take an exploratory approach to their classes.  Particularly enjoyable or unenjoyable classes cause them to narrow their educational focus.  As a result, students do not reason very deeply about the CS content of their classes when they make educational decisions.

This work makes three main contributions: the theory of student conceptions, the theory of student educational decisions, and the preliminary survey instrument for evaluating student conceptions. This work has applications in CS curriculum design as well as for future research in the CS education community.

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College of Computing, School of Interactive Computing

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  • Created By: Jupiter
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Oct 15, 2012 - 4:51am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 10:00pm