Thinking and Behaving Scientifically in Computer Science: When Failure is an Option!

Anne Venables, Grace Tan
InSITE 2006  •  Volume 6  •  2006
In a Finnish study of four different academic disciplines, Ylijoki (2000) found that in Computer Science there was a disparity between the conceptions held by undergraduate students and staff about their discipline; students viewed it as being far more pragmatic and results focused than did their instructors. Not surprisingly, here at our Australian university where the undergraduate Computer Science program emphasizes programming and problem solving skills, the authors had noticed a similar inconsistency between staff and student beliefs. This paper reports on an effort to realign these conceptions and broaden student experience using an assessment task. Centered on solutions to the popular ‘Sudoku’ puzzle (Sudoku, 2005), the task was designed and introduced into an Intelligent Systems course, a final year elective of a Computer Science degree. The goal was to expose students to some of the ‘pure’ rather than applied aspects of the Computer Science discipline (Becher & Trowler, 2001), by using assessment to encourage experimental learning (Kolb & Fry, 1975). The assessment specification instructed students to design and conduct several ‘in silica’ Computer Science experiments to solve and/or create Sudoku puzzles. Importantly, students were asked to keep a Research Diary documenting their thoughts, attempts, backtracking and progresses as they attempted the assignment. Most unique from a student’s perspective was that ‘failure’ to solve the given problem by experimentation was a viable option; their efforts would be rewarded given they conducted themselves ‘scientifically’ in their attempt.
Experimental learning, Scientific thinking, Scientific behavior, Research Diary, Sudoku puzzle
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