Examining the Nature of Collaborative Learning in the Context of Problem Solving in First-Year and Second-Year Computing Education, A Naturalistic Exploratory Case Study
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This exploratory case study examined the nature of problem solving in terms of the types of problems posed, instructional approaches and collaborative learning, in first-year and second-year post-secondary computing education. Participants included faculty across three computing programs. Instructional classroom and laboratory observations, in-depth faculty interviews and course artifacts served as the data sources. A problem-solving typology and problem-solving literature alongside social constructivist theory, served as the framework to examine the above practices. Findings indicated that faculty predominantly presented aspects of well-structured problems, but also emphasized characteristics across several problem types, including the importance of real-world problems and better or worse solutions in allowing for multiple solution paths. Faculty approaches to problem solving were also well-structured, with a focus on decomposing problems into smaller problems. Collaborative problem solving was limited to informal classroom interactions and unstructured student group work, with faculty focusing on building individual student skillsets in the computing domain. These findings exposed opportunities for improvement related to more explicit and structured instructional experiences for students in posing problems, presenting problem-solving approaches and fostering a collaborative learning environment. Research related to computing education should expand to address the nature of problem types and problem solving in post-secondary computing education, instructional approaches that foster and inform the development of diverse problem-solving knowledge and skills among students and how collaborative learning aligns with real-world computing problems and applications. This study has implications for computing faculty pedagogical knowledge and training, curriculum development, and subsequent professional development related to collaborative problem solving in computing education.