Research Strands

The Centre for Computing Science Education supports several ongoing strands of research. Many of these strands have ongoing projects assocaited with them, which can be read about below.

Cognition and Reasoning

Mental Models and Programming

Peter Donaldson is currently investigating conceptual models of programming languages and systems (notional machine models) and which types of activities help novices to develop a more coherent and accurate mental model of how they work. Development of a coherent mental model of program execution is increasingly seen by the CS Education community as an important developmental step in learning to program and therefore a key aspect in educators being able to support all learners to become computationally literate. Peter’s research draws inspiration from prior work on mental models and current research in scientific modelling and coherence formation using multiple external representations.

Spatial Skills

Jack Parkinson has been investigating the relationship between spatial skills (cognitive skills relating to the assimilation, representation and manipulation of structures, objects and processes) and success in Computing Science since 2017. Students with good spatial skills tend to be higher achievers in their computing modules, particularly those with less prior experience and in modules involving learning new conceptual content. The leading theories in this area point towards the abstract encoding and vislualistaion skills assocaited with spatial skills being valuable in forumating and recalling understanding of complex computing processes and concepts, as well as being able to chunk non-verbal information more effectively to allow for more free working memory.

Jack's work has led to the School of Computing Science at the Univeersity of Glasgow implementing a formal spatial skills training module for first year students with lower spatial skills, as the evidence points towards this training being valuable to students at all levels. While tehre are some researchers exploring spatial skills in the context of CS education, the CCSE is a world-leading group in investigating this connection.

Argumentative Reasoning in Programming 

Maria Kallia is investigating the role of argumentative reasoning in problem-solving in programming. The project is based on theories of argumentation and rhetoric and aims to develop a pedagogical framework that incorporates argumentative reasoning in the core of classroom and peer to peer interactions and discourse in computer programming courses. 

Early Developmental Activities

Early Play and Programming

Elizabeth Cole is a PhD student investigating the role of early play in the development of foundational programming skills. Her initial research has triangulated theories about play-based skills development in children under the age of eight by exploring three related categories: the importance of computing science skills in non-digital careers, the connection between adults' programming ability and their childhood play habits and the success of children undertaking block programming in formal education. The emerging results of the latter indicate that low-tech play experiences matter for the pupils, whereas socio-economic status doesn't.

The future of this project will involve the analysis of two concepts: comprehension of the structural appearance of code and how it operates during execution. Both of these concepts corelate well with children’s emergent literacy skills.

Grounded Cognition

Maria Kallia is investigating the role of Grounded Cognition in conceptual development in computing. Together with Anaclara Gerosa, a PhD student, they aim to design learning trajectories for promoting computer science concept acquisition in the early years of computing education based on Grounded Cognition theorisations.

Graphical Representations of Statistical Cognition

Lovisa Sundin completed her BSc degree in computing science and psychology at University of Glasgow in 2017, and is now a second-year PhD student. Across STEM, many graduates are now expected to not only have a grasp of common statistical procedures, but also skills in statistical programming. Her research is concerned with both, by evaluating ways of helping novices implement statistical procedures programmatically. Specifically, she is interested in a range of graphical techniques meant to address various cognitive aspects of this process: the conceptual, the computational and the syntactic.

There is currently an active project associated with this research: Slice N Dice.

Software Engineering Work-Based Learning Degree

Graduate Apprenticeship Degree Programmes

The Department of Computer Science at the University of Glasgow are looking forwad to the graduation of the first Graduate Apprenticeship in Software Engineering cohort, in summer of 2022. Graduate Apprenticeships are work-based degrees, awarding a qualification equal to the standard academic route through Computer Science with substantial industry experience to boot.

The degree has been developed from scratch, drawing in research from international best practice concerning work-based learning, communities of practice, active learning and more. The work has been supported by international visits, large scale industry consultation and extensive literature review across several areas, all contributing to the development of a programme which we believe to provide an excellent learning experience for students and a valuable investment for employers.

More information about the development of this programme can be found on the CCSE pages under Work Based Learning, and information on the programme itself can be found on the University's main pages under Software Engineering (Graduate Apprenticeship).

Computing Apprenticeship Landscape Survey

Sebastian Dziallas is leading on the CPHC-funded Computing Apprenticeship Landscape Survey (CALS) project, which aims to capture the breadth and variety of approaches across the UK, with a particular focus on the following aspects:

  • identifying practices and curricular structures used in the context of different programmes (e.g. day release, cohort-based approaches, summer programmes, etc.)
  • investigating employers’ motivations for participating in degree-level apprenticeships and the extent to which they differ across programmes
  • exploring students’ individual learning trajectories and paths to these programmes

Programming Language Transfer for Novices

Ethel Tshukudu is a PhD student in Computing Science at the University of Glasgow investigating conceptual transfer for relative novices when they transition from one programming language to another as they progress in their level of Computing Science Education. This area of research is relevant to the Computing Science school education context because students find themselves faced with the need to transfer from blocks to text programming languages or procedural languages to object-oriented languages. Ethel intends on developing a framework of conceptual transfer for relative novices as well as developing a pedagogy that is suitable for conceptual transfer.

CCSE in Schools

  • PhD students will shortly be working with groups of teachers on collaborative projects, involving the development of effective pedagogy for teaching CS at primary school level, and on the importance of spatial skills to learning in CS at primary and secondary levels.
  • The CCSE is a lead architect of the Scottish school curriculum for computing science, for 3-15 year olds.  This curriculum draws on experience of working with pupils and teachers, on leading curricula from around the world, and from a deep analysis of the broad skills and understanding required of a computer scientist or engineer.  Two guides to the curriculum, one specifically for primary teachers and the other aimed at Secondary teachers, can be found at
  • Professor Cutts sits on the academic board of the National Centre for Computing Education, to provide advice on its development and operation.  This is a UK Government-funded £84M initiative to learning resources and professional development for teachers.  He is a member of the UK Government’s digital skills working group and has an adjunct position with the University of Oslo, working with colleagues to enhance computing education in Norwegian schools.
  • Mr Donaldson is the Higher Education representative on the Scottish Qualifications Authority National Qualifications Support Team for Computing Science and Sector panel for Computing.  He is also a member of the CAMAU project research team for the Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience, providing policy and research based guidance on learning progression to Welsh Pioneers shaping the new Curriculum for Wales. Mr Donaldson and Dr Singer are currently leading a CCSE project funded by the DataLab to create a FutureLearn MOOC that introduces basic Data Science to educators of all backgrounds.
  • Previously, Professor Cutts and Mr Donaldson led the Professional Learning and Networking in Computing project, funded by the Scottish Government, to provide professional learning for Scottish computing teachers.  A network of 25 teacher hubs was set up around the country and a sequence of professional development activities created, particularly exploring a range of novel research-led CS pedagogy. Most of the local hub support materials and example exercises can be found in the CPD Resources for pedagogical content knowledge (PLANC) resource on the Computing At School Community site.
  • CCSE staff advised on the new national school Computing Science qualifications, in particular recommending the importance of program comprehension.  This led to further work on how to fairly assess program comprehension, and the development of a reference language, jovially referred to as Haggis, for use in national examinations in Scotland.

Intrinsic Value of Computer Programming

Maria Kallia is a research associate investigating the intrinsic value of computer programming and the practices that academics employ to communicate it to first-year undergraduate students. The project aims to develop a framework that describes how learning experiences could be designed to communicate these values to undergraduate students as a means to enhance students’ motivation, interest, and computing identity. 

Computer Science Participation

Maria Kallia is a research associate investigating the factors that influence CS participation from a sociological point of view. The overall aim of the project is to broaden CS participation and tackle inequalities at all levels of education.