WHAT LEARNING COMPUTER SCIENCE LOOKS LIKE?
Several issues related to computer education have attracted researchers’ attention. Among these, the relatively small proportion of high school and university students in advanced Computer Science (CS) studies (e.g., Ross, 2016) and women’s and disadvantaged groups’ underrepresentation in this field (e.g., Galpin, Sanders, Turner, &Venter, 2003). various factors were mentioned in the literature as contributing to staying away from computer science. Among these negative attitudes, low computing self-efficacy, and stereotypic beliefs. Learning about students’ conceptions of CS allows uncovering their feelings, views, and beliefs and gaining an understanding of how they think of their CS studies. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to examine advanced Computer Science (CS) students’ conceptions of CS using images and metaphors, rather than quantitative questionnaires, in order to gain a deeper and more comprehensive picture of students’ conceptions.
Data were obtained from a random sample of 315 (88 girls and 227 boys), eleventh and twelfth-grade students in advanced CS level (5-units track). Participants were from randomly selected high schools in six large cities in the central part of Israel.
Participants were presented with eight images and were asked to select the one that best describes learning CS and to explain their choice. The eight images display the following: a man training a horse, a man looking through a magnifying lens, two doctors holding a discussion, a man immersed in deep thinking, two men climbing stairs, a stormy ocean, a chess board, and a woman playing golf. The most frequently selected image was of a chess board (selected by 42% of the participants - 44% of the boys and 36% of the girls). Participants explained that like playing Chess, learning CS requires planning several moves ahead, building strategy, high analytical skills, logic, creativity and thinking out of the box.
Participants were also asked to complete the phrase "computer science is like ..." in order to solicit metaphors that reflect their perceptions and feelings about CS studies. Metaphor analysis indicates that the vast majority - 71% of respondents - expressed positive conceptions of the subject. Positive conceptions are reflected in metaphors implying that CS studies are a key to success in life, they gradually unlock students’ thinking and open them to practice and enjoyment. It is important to note that 1% of the respondents provide metaphors reflecting the difficulties and frustration they are encountering in their CS studies.
The findings provide a clear and interesting picture of advanced CS students’ perceptions of CS studies. It is likely that these conceptions were developed and/or sharpen through their CS studies. It will be interesting to investigate the extent to which students’ conception affect their decision to major in CS in their future studies.
 Galpin, V., Sanders, I., Turner, H., & Venter, B. (2003). Computer self-efficacy, gender, and educational background in South Africa. Unpublished manuscript.
 Ross, T. (2016). CS in HS: Promoting Computer Science education in High school," Science & Technology Peer to Peer, 1(1), Article 1.