Saturday, 23 August 2008

Thesis writing

Thesis writing is my other primary activity at present. I am in the last stages turning my attention to the discussion and conclusions. I have to admit that although the subject matter was of interest nearly two years ago, I am finding it frustrating now as I try to write the results up in a way that initially satisfies my supervisors and later the examiners. Partly because my these changed direction over the period that I have been working on it and partly because I wasn't encouraged to write sections earlier, most of the thesis has been written over the last eight months. Some of the difficulty is writing an educational thesis when I have been more focused on technologies. The shift in thinking is quite large.

From a technology perspective, my thesis is looking at how practitioners perceive what object-oriented programming is about. This has involved looking at how they express what an object-oriented program is and how they talk about designing an object-oriented program. The method that I am applying to the research is based on phenomenography. The objective is to uncover an outcome space that details the different ways that a group of practitioners express their understanding of a phenomenon. The result is a set of categories of description that in theory covers all the ways expressed by the group. This isn't a statistical exercise. It is very much an analysis of texts. As well as practitioner interviews, I have examined a set of textbooks based on the categories arrived at from analysing the practitioner' interviews.

The educational perspective gave the basis for the study. I have taken a relational perspective of learning (Ramsden 2003) that argues that the way that a learner approaches a learning task is dependent on their perception of the task. Some would call it the task representation. From a phenomenographic perspective, learning occurs when there is a change of conception of a phenomenon (Marton and Booth 1997). Hence if we understand the way that people perceive a particular phenomenon and the variations in critical aspects that make up that perception then we may be able to plan teaching to ensure that the perceptions that cause the greatest learning are those that are visible to the student and plan a pathway to those perceptions from those currently held by the learner.

My original plan was to implement a teaching plan and gather data on the change in learner conceptions over the period of the course but that failed when student enrolments in our courses began to drop and finally when I took redundancy rather than a position as a tutor. Losing the context for the research hasn't helped my struggle to complete the writing. I enjoy tasks where I can see a practical application. Now, the thesis seems to be little more than an academic exercise which occasionally gives me some enthusiasm when I uncover a new insight.

If you are reading this and think that any of this might be useful to you then consider leaving a comment and maybe we can get in touch. Job offers in teaching programming will also be accepted gladly.

Reference:

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education (2nd ed.). London: Routledge Falmer.

Marton, F., & Booth, S. A. (1997). Learning and awareness. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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