computer science education · Computing At School · research · teachers · teaching

Situated Learning and Computing At School – new paper

I have recently published, with Simon Humphreys, a new paper on situated learning and teacher professional development in computing education, using Computing At School (CAS) as an example. This paper looks at situated learning and what it really means, and what Lave and Wenger (1991) meant by a community of practice. The term “community of practice” is used so often it has probably lost much of its original meaning, but we feel it is very important for teacher professional learning in computing – and has been at the root of the work of CAS for many years.

There are 100 free e-prints of this paper – to download one click here.

In the paper we draw on the original work of Lave and Wenger (1991) from their book: Situated learning theory maintains that there is a relationship between learning and the social situation in which it occurs; learning is embedded in activity, context and culture. In terms of professional learning for teachers this implies that effective learning takes place within a community where experts and novices meet and where practice is modelled; such a community needs to be deeply relevant to every day practice in the classroom. In the paper we discuss the continuity-displacement that takes place as communities evolve, and what newcomers and old-timers both bring as participants of the community.

Computing At School is a grass-roots organisation that has grown up over the last ten years through teacher communities, and also with broad support of academia and industry. Computing At School is a community of practice of all teachers affected by curriculum change in Computing, and models an innovative approach to professional learning that is based on community and support. In the paper we describe how Computing At School draws on situated learning theory to contribute to the development of Computing in the curriculum, evidencing both the journey and lessons learned. In this way a grass-roots organisation has been able to empower teachers and encourage local, peer-to-peer, face-to-face learning amongst teachers.

In England the Computing curriculum became mandatory (replacing ICT) in September 2014. This comprises three elements – computer science, IT and digital literacy.  Most of the computer science element was new to the curriculum. In addition, the detail of the curriculum was being slimmed down. It was pretty tough for teachers to be landed with a new subject to teach with only a 2 or 3 page programme of study. When teachers of History – or other subjects – moved to the 2 or 3 programme of study in 2014 they had decades of teaching materials and experience to draw on when interpreting and delivering it. This was not the case for Computing, at least for the elements that differed from the previous ICT programme of study,  and being in this situation drew teachers together to share resources, edit them, hold events to support each other and volunteer as master teachers and hub leaders within the emerging community of CAS. Bottom-up professional learning at its best.  Of course not all teachers come across, or look for this community – so significant reach takes time.

We have spoken about CAS in many countries over the last five years, and talked to many colleagues hoping to emulate the way that CAS has worked and set up something similar in their own situation. Internationally it seems to be recognised that empowering and involving teachers is an effective way to gain and keep support for curriculum change.  Teachers have struggled however to choose the right resources, to go on enough courses, to work through new materials, to keep up with the ever-increasing demands on the curriculum. In England, we don’t use the approach of “the” textbook, containing one way of teaching, and that all teachers should use, believing that teachers will learn from teaching this material in this way – teachers choose their own resources and adapt to their own learner. To facilitate this we need to give teachers time out of the classroom to develop their own skills and knowledge, to develop new, and adapt existing, resources, to work with colleagues, and to gain confidence in their own subject knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge (how to teach the subject). Drawing on communities of practice is a pretty effective way to do this, and situated learning describes the way that these communities evolve and develop effectively over time.

I am continuing to look at how sociocultural theory in general impacts computing education – in classroom practice, and the way we learn programming (new paper coming out on PRIMM soon, I hope). In school the many issues around the learning of computing may be better illuminated through a social learning lens.


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