Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence



Publication Details

Paper presented at the Higher Education in Transformation Conference, Dublin, 31st. May - 1st. April, 2015.


First year students on third level Computing courses find Software Development difficult: learner outcomes are poor, with high failure rates and low learner retention. A number of research studies have shown that novice programmers have low intrinsic motivation and low programming self-efficacy. One of the other possible explanations for the difficulties many learners have with Software Development is that it may be a Threshold Concept in Computing. The literature suggests that Problem-Based Learning (PBL) can improve the teaching of difficult concepts, and it has been promoted by professional and funding bodies as a teaching strategy that can improve learner outcomes and bring about positive changes in learner behaviour. The main aim of this research study was to establish the impact on learner behaviour of a Hybrid PBL approach used in the teaching of an introductory Software Development module at an Irish third level institution. Learners on the Software Development module are characterised by low prior attainment in State college entry examinations, and the majority are from low income socio-economic backgrounds. Learner behaviours were investigated over four cohorts of learners using a large range of data sources. A randomised controlled experimental design was used to measure changes in attainment, programming self-efficacy, motivation, approaches to study and preferences for types of teaching. Questionnaires, data mining of learner activity and attendance logs were used to provide additional information about learner behaviour, and further analysis was undertaken using qualitative techniques such as classroom observations and interviews. Both qualitative and quantitative measures were used to confirm, cross-validate and corroborate findings. The study made significant discoveries about the strengths and limitations of the Problem-Based Learning approach in the teaching of Software Development to low attainment learners. The implications for instructional practice and