Computing students and professionals alike commonly complain of an unpleasant sense of isolation. It is a well-documented cause of attrition throughout the discipline, one to which those from backgrounds already underrepresented in computing are particularly vulnerable. Though no silver bullet exists, collaborative work and learning strategies (such as pair programming) are a well-researched, commonly-practiced means of deterring this sense of isolation. However, studies on the employment of collaborative learning strategies in college-level computing coursework have focused almost exclusively on the use of pair programming methodology in traditional programming courses. A gap exists in the literature with regard to the employment of collaborative learning strategies in non-traditional programming courses, such as those teaching modern game development using visual scripting languages.
This paper will present the findings of a pilot study integrating formal collaborative learning strategy into a game development course (CGT 245: Game Development I) taught at a large Midwestern university in the United States (Purdue University). The study spanned two offerings of the course (Fall 2017 and Fall 2018), and the coding platform employed in the course was the Blueprints Visual Scripting system (Unreal Engine). The learning strategy employed in the course, formal collaborative learning, consists of students working together to jointly achieve specific shared tasks, assignments, and learning objectives over a period of time ranging from 1 class period to several weeks. This paper first discusses the pedagogical and assessment changes this integration entailed. The findings are then presented, with subsequent discussion guided by constructivist learning theory and social interdependence theory. Finally, implications and future research endeavors are discussed.
Specific findings include: student attendance was higher when collaborative learning was employed; over 95% of the students enrolled in the course successfully completed the course with a grade of C or better; over 90% of the students successfully completing the course immediately matriculated into the next course in the course-series, CGT 255: Game Development II; a robust camaraderie among classmates was observed to develop when collaborative learning was employed, camaraderie which continued into coursework the following semester.
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