Why do students choose computing? : influences, perception and engagement: PhD thesis (unpublished)

Lisa Payne

Research output: Book/ReportOther reportpeer-review


The 'Why Computing?' project is a constructivist-interpretive study which arose from concerns over many years of practice as an academic, as to why some students enrolled on computing degrees when they had no apparent interest in the subject. To check that these were wider concerns, not just personal or local, work started by interviewing academics from diverse universities. This confirmed the broad prevalence of low levels of apparent disengagement. Empirical data were collected, from current and potential students, over a period of up to 18-months, as they chose their course and progressed into Higher Education. This included 100 hours of focus group and individual interviews.
Three theoretical lenses were selected for use as analytical tools: Actor-Network Theory was supported by Structure-Agency and Social Practice theories. From the initial objective, three themes emerged as work progressed: the image of computing, student choice and engagement, each of which led to evolving and focussing, research questions.

Empirical data confirmed the current, largely anecdotal, understandings that the image of computing, particularly its 'geeky-ness', deters some applicants and that many pupils have an incorrect understanding of the likely content of an HE computing course, often conflating it with school ICT.

New insights include that those pupils who do have a reasonable understanding of what technical computing courses encompass have usually gained it through their social networks (often parents): seldom through school. Some students who might be seen as disengaged can be fully committed to their course, but behaving in ways different to that planned by course designers, and may be better considered 'differently engaged'. Models of the characteristics of engagement are developed. Finally, some computing degree students value the opportunity to exercise their creativity.

ANT Analysis Diagrams were developed as an analytical tool which can be re-used in many contexts. Implications for stakeholders are presented.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCoventry University
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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