Motivating programming students by Problem Based Learning and LEGO robots

Marianne Lykke, Mayela Coto Chotto, Sonia Mora, Niels Vandel Svendsen, Christian Jantzen

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapport/konference proceedingKonferenceartikel i proceedingForskningpeer review

25 Citationer (Scopus)


Retention of first year students in Computer Science is a concern for universities internationally. Especially programming courses are regarded as difficult, and often have the highest failure and dropout rates. The Informatics School at Universidad Nacional in Costa Rica is not an exception. For this reason the school is focusing on different teaching methods to help their students master these skills.

This paper introduces an experimental, controlled comparison study of three learning designs, involving a problem based learning (PBL) approach in connection with the use of LEGO Mindstorms to improve students programming skills and motivation for learning in an introductory programming course. The paper reports the results related with one of the components of the study - the experiential qualities of the three learning designs. The data were collected through a questionnaire survey with 229 students from three groups exposed to different learning designs, through six qualitative walk-alongs collecting data from these groups by informal interviews and observations and by non-participant observation in six class sessions. Findings from the three studies were discussed in three focus group interviews with 10 students from the three experimental groups.

The three learning designs investigated are 1) a problem-based leaning design (PBL), 2) a combination of PBL and LEGO Mindstorms (PBL+LM), and 3) a traditional learning design (Control group). The learning designs, PBL and PBL+LM, build on the generic essentials of PBL and is grounded in Dewey’s pragmatic philosophy that education is situated in events and based on self-action and interaction. The PBL and PBL+LM designs have the same distribution of efforts as regard learning activities, problem-based projects and attitudinal self-assessment. The main difference with the Control design is around the learning activities and the project. The difference in the learning activities is to compensate for the different effort assigned to the project work.

The findings show that all three learning designs have their own set of advantages and challenges. The PBL-design seems best at stimulating collaboration, interaction, and emotional wellbeing. The robots in the PBL+LM-design are engaging and motivating, but also frustrating, due to the inherent limitations of the robot as regards project tasks, practical issues and insecurity about the learning outcome. The traditional class lectures provide security in terms of theoretical insight, but also provide stress and nervousness due little experience with self-active and interactive work. If we want happy, comfortable, delighted, and at the same time calm and lively students, none of the learning designs are fully satisfying. It is also clear that all of the students are motivated by working in projects, but for the robots to be an effective tool of motivation it is necessary to provide more theoretical foundation about programming and improve the project tasks and the conditions under which the robots are used in the course.
TitelProceedings 2014 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON)
ISBN (Elektronisk)978-1-4799-3191-0
StatusUdgivet - 2014
BegivenhedIEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON) - Istanbul, Tyrkiet
Varighed: 3 apr. 20145 apr. 2014
Konferencens nummer: 2014


KonferenceIEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON)


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