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Computational thinking: an investigation of the existing scholarship and research




Weinberg, Andrea Elizabeth, author
Cobb, R. Brian, advisor
Albright, Leonard, committee member
Kehle, Paul, committee member
Vaske, Jerry, committee member

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Despite the prevalence of computing and technology in our everyday lives and in almost every discipline and profession, student interest and enrollment in computer science courses is declining. In response, computer science education in K-12 schools and universities is undergoing a transformation. Computational thinking has been proposed as a universal way of thinking with benefits for everyone, not just computer scientists. The focus on computational thinking moves beyond computer literacy, or the familiarity with software, to a way of thinking that benefits everyone. Many see computational thinking as a way to introduce students to computer science concepts and ways of thinking and to motivate student interest in computer science. The first part of this dissertation describes a study in which the researcher systematically examined the literature and scholarship on computational thinking since 2006. The aim was to explore nature and extent of the entire body of literature and to examine the theory and research evidence on computational thinking. Findings reveal that there has been a steady increase in the popularity of the concept of computational thinking, but it is not yet developed to the point where it can be studied in a meaningful way. An examination of the research evidence on computational thinking found inadequacies in the conceptual characteristics and the reporting of studies. Weaknesses were identified in the theoretical conceptualization of interventions, definitions of key concepts, intervention descriptions, research designs, and the presentation of findings. Recommendations for bolstering the research evidence around this burgeoning concept are presented, including collaboration between computer scientists and educational researchers to apply social science research methods to conduct robust studies of computational thinking interventions. The second part of this dissertation describes how computational thinking is currently incorporated into K-12 educational settings. The bulk of the literature on computational thinking describes ways in which programs promote this way of thinking in students. The K-12 programs that encourage computational thinking are classified, described, and discussed in a way that is intended to be meaningful for K-12 educators and educational researchers. Potential barriers and factors that might enable educators to use each category of interventions are discussed.


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computational thinking
STEM education
education research
computer science education


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