Exploring college students’ conceptions of learning computer science: a draw-a-picture technique study

Zhen Xu, Albert D. Ritzhaupt, Karthikeyan Umapathy, Yang Ning, Chin Chung Tsai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background and context: Researchers have been looking into the complexity of computer science (CS) education and tried to apply rigorous and relevant educational research methods to understand and facilitate the learning experience of students. Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore college students’ conceptions of learning CS to shed light on student learning activities, feelings, contexts, and beliefs about their learning. Method: Draw-a-picture technique was used as an emerging research technique in CS education. Using a modified coding checklist, we analyzed the drawings into 9 categories with 50 sub-categories. Findings: College students most frequently expressed computer programming as the learning activity by illustrating syntax and semantics of programming languages in the drawings. Problem-solving constructs like decomposition and abstraction were also recorded along with other tools like diagramming techniques. Gender and prior computer science experience were analyzed as moderators. Implications: The results provide a baseline for future research on the topic and preliminary evidence in using the method to discern student learning conceptions in CS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-82
Number of pages23
JournalComputer Science Education
Issue number1
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • computer programming
  • Computer science education
  • conceptions of learning
  • draw-a-picture technique

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science(all)
  • Education


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