||This paper is centred on undergraduate students enrolled on a BSc in IT programme in Dublin, Ireland, with a view to enhancing student engagement through the introduction of social learning strategies. It is a piece of practice based research within a research environment that favours individual learning approaches in computer programming as opposed to group based learning strategies.
An important factor in student learning and personal development during college is student engagement, or the quality of effort students themselves devote to educationally purposeful activities that contribute directly to desired outcomes (Astin, 1993; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991). Kuh (2009) defines student engagement as a term used to represent constructs such as quality of effort and involvement in productive learning activities. The authors introduced social learning strategies, such as Problem Based Learning (PBL) and Peer Assisted Learning (PAL), to encourage and enhance student engagement. Computer Programming was identified as the module for this study, as it is widely accepted as a difficult subject area for 1st year undergraduate students, and is associated with the high dropout rates seen in 1st year computing programmes.
Social interaction creates a dynamic relationship and if a student begins to identify with other groups of peers who are performing at a higher level, then self-identity can change and create expectancies that will affect positive engaging behaviour in the classroom. This in turn will have an effect on the relationship between that student and the class group. Bandura (1986) described this dynamic relationship as 'reciprocal determinism' in which individuals, their behaviours and their social environment are dynamically bound together in a process. While the results of studies designed to examine the effect of social learning strategies are mixed, there are findings that suggest that the use of peer learning may have a positive effect on student engagement and retention within computing programmes (McDowell et al 2002; Williams et al 2003; Braught et al 2011).
The conclusions from this study indicate that the use of social learning strategies within computer programming have a positive effect on some aspects of student engagement, particularly relating to social interaction with peers. The feedback from the use of PBL and PAL were mostly positive, with students requesting more, similar activities. No strong conclusions are drawn from the findings, other than the introduction of social learning within computer programming was a positive experience and any further research should evaluate other tools and approaches that have proven effective in higher education, and perhaps, appropriate methods can be further appraised in practice.