What kind of results that can be obtained from a research project into students' learning of computer science is closely related to how the research is performed. The relation is complex: Similar results, or, at least, results illuminating the same research question, can be obtained in different ways. Neither does the selection of a particular way of performing the result necessarily lead to a certain type of the result. The researcher himself - his beliefs, interests, previous experience, network of discussants, even his personality - is essential for the outcome of a project and becomes, to a certain degree, a part of the results. Other factors that influences the outcome are the setting in which the study is performed, previous work within the domain, previous work performed in a similar way, just to mention a few.
A research approach is essential to guide the researcher as he studies students’ learning of computer science. It serves as a “tool box”, and offers established guidelines for conducting empirical work, as well as a theoretically sound perspective on learning. An approach can be compared to a lens in that some aspects are in focus, while others become unclear or “blurred”. The selection of a research approach is crucial, since a particular approach offers certain perspectives on the research question, and enables in this way the researcher to study certain aspects of learning.
With a conscious selection of a reserach approach, communication with other researchers becomes possible as a shared terminology is available. In this way, the researcher gets the instruments to judge the relevance of his work in the light of that which are performed by others, and, of course, to judge the findings of others in relation to his own results. Furthermore the approach helps in understanding to what extent the results can be trusted and generalized to other groups of students and to other situations.
The deployment of an approach in a particular project, that is, a selection of which methods that are used (for example, to collect data) are not defined by an approach, but are instead methodological decisions that has to be taken by the researcher based on the current situation, of which the approach and the research questions are key elements. Of course, since a research approach has a history, including other projects - more or less successful - performed within that approach, there is a tradition, or a network of competence, that the researcher partly can lean on in his selection to use one method (for example interviews for data collection) over another (for example observation).
In this talk, I will discuss some research approach that are relevant for research into students' learning of computer science. Examples of results that can be obtained from the different approaches will be given.
Koli, Joensuu, Finland , 2004.