Knowledge Creation in Computer Science in an International Distributed Environment

Anders Berglund

Department of Computer Systems
Uppsala University
P.O. Box 325
SE-751 05 Uppsala
Tel: + 46 70 425 02 11
Fax: + 46 18 55 02 25


My main interest of research is students' learning, and how students' learning is influenced by our ways of teaching, our ways of using of technbology, and our ways of assessing students' learning in a distributed, international environment.


Information and communication technology is a priori an essential ingredient in Computer Science education at university level, since it is both the study object and a tool for learning. The key issues facing the future computer science professionals involve globalization of the knowledge base, and increased specialization and distribution of expertise with resulting need to collaborate in a culturally and linguistically complex environment . And all of this is coupled with rapid change in techniques, which demands life-long learning within the profession. Future professionals must be capable of collaborating globally in order to maintain their roles in the professional community. Knowledge construction in remote collaboration and the creation of virtual environments in which the cooperation becomes fruitful and productive are thus important when considering the education of future computer science professionals. These processes must therefore be understood in order to be able design suitable instructional environments.

The question I want to address in my research is, in what ways students, who take part in international collaboration as part of courses in computer science, experience their learning and collaboration. The question can be analyzed into a number of aspects which relate to

Further, these can be examined in the light of the outcomes of learning in the specific course context.

Theoretical framework

The studies will be conducted within a phenomenographic framework, in order to investigate the variation in ways that students experience what have been identified as essential aspects of learning in ICT-supported international collaborative environments. Material will be collected in the form of questionnaires, interviews and the work produced by the students (exams, lab reports, projects etc). The questionnaires will be analyzed to provide an extensive overview, the interviews will be analyzed to get an intensive and deep insight into the aspects of learning that are essential to this study, and the students' work will allow an analysis of the learning outcome of the course. Taken together this will give a rich and complex picture of learning within the collaborative framework.

I am currently running another project, funded by Grundutbildningsrådet (the Swedish Council for Renewal of Undergraduate Education) jointly with NyIng, where I study the effects of alternative assessment methods on engineering student learning.

The setting

I will study a collaborative project between the Animation Aided Problem Solving group (AAPS), Department of Computer Science, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland, and Institut Universitaire de Technologie - Département Génie Télécommunications et Réseaux, Université de la Mediterranée, Marseille, France.

In this project students in Helsinki will teach Java to students in Marseille, using different Internet based tools. The framework, the academic backgrounds, and the goals are different in Helsinki and in Marseille: Students in Helsinki take a course in Computer Aided Learning Environments, while the French students take a course in Network Computing. The Finish students are master students, in different fields, mainly CS, while the French students specialize to become technical salesmen, with a broad knowledge of networks, telecommunication, computer science, as well as economy and marketing. For the Finish students, it is important to learn a pedagogy that is useable on Internet, to create a learning environment, and to practise to create a course, while the French students need to work with Internet based tools and to learn Java. The international experience is important for both student groups.

The time plan for the project is as follows:

Year 1: A pilot study will be performed. Questionnaires will be developed and piloted. Interview schemes and tasks will be developed and piloted.

Year 2: The study will begin with material collection. Preliminary analysis will be performed to identify the need for reinforcement.

Year 3: Analysis of collected material will proceed, and further material will be collected as needed. Preliminary results will be disseminated to the international network of computer science education researchers, and aired in pedagogical circles, in order to illuminate the work from a wide variety of perspectives.

Years 4 and 5: Final analysis and write-up will take place, with an expected dissertation in December 2002.

The project is mainly funded by KK-stiftelsen (the Foundation for Knowledge and Competence Development) through a personal grant to Anders Berglund.

Expected Outcome

Insights can be gained, in the form of variations of ways in which learning in complex international collaborative computer science courses with the aid of ICT is experienced. What the students are learning, how they are going about the tasks, and how they experience the form of study that is involved can be opened to inspection by interested parties. These should inform, on the one hand, teachers about what their students are going through and how the learning environment can be facilitated, and, on the other hand, designers of ICT tools about ways in which they can bring about more effective usage both in learning and professional situations.