International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy (iJEP) (Sep 2017)

Evidencing the Value of Inquiry Based, Constructionist Learning for Student Coders

  • Matthew John Yee-King,
  • Mick Grierson,
  • Mark d'Inverno

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 7, no. 3
pp. 109 – 129


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For the last decade, there has been growing interest in the STEAM approach (essentially combining methods and practices in arts, humanities and social sciences into STEM teaching and research) to develop better research and education, and enable us to produce students who can work most effectively in the current and developing market-place. However, despite this interest, there seems to be little quantitative evidence of the true power of STEAM learning, especially describing how it compares and performs with respect to more established approaches. To address this, we present a comparative, quantitative study of two distinct approaches to teaching programming, one based on STEAM (with an open-ended inquiry-based approach), the other based on a more traditional, non-STEAM approach (where constrained problems are set and solved). Our key results evidence how students exhibit different styles of programming in different types of lessons and, crucially, that students who tend to exhibit more of the style of programming observed in our STEAM lessons also tend to achieve higher grades. We present our claims through a range of visualisations and statistical validations which clearly show the significance of the results, despite the small scale of the study. We believe that this work provides clear evidence for the advantages of STEAM over non-STEAM, and provides a strong theoretical and technological framework for future, larger studies.