School of Education

Robotics and Learning Coding Earns UKZN Staffer a PhD

Dr Reginald Govender.
Dr Reginald Govender.

Lecturer in Computer Science within the School of Education, Dr Reginald Govender, graduated with his PhD in Education for his research that explored the learning of coding through the use of Robotics among computer registered students with no prior coding knowledge at a University in South Africa.

Govender sees Computer Programming as a valuable skill in the digital era, believing that for the novice programmer, it is often accompanied with difficulties resulting in negative reactions.

‘The dawning of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has catapulted many initiatives locally and globally to promote Computer Programming and Robotics. A major initiative by the South African government is the planning and implementing of a new subject in school to raise the awareness of coding at an early age,’ explained Govender. ‘The lack of coding exposure and awareness leads to little or no interest in Computer Programming related courses after schooling years.’

Unlike the traditional use of block-based programming to introduce Computer Programming, which is limited to screen output and non advance coding techniques, Govender’s study opted to use a physical manipulative by using a robotic element through prototype building using text-based programming, resulting in live autonomous output of code. Python programming language was used to develop an understanding of the fundamental concepts of Computer Programming. Participants’ coding knowledge was assessed through a series of hands-on activities.

The results show that students acquiring a direct learning experience with text-based code with the aid of the robotic element proved to be successful. The robot coding simplified the assimilation of text-based coding as participants could see the execution of their code on the prototype in reality. The eradication of the abstract nature of Computer Programming through Robotics as a physical manipulative solidified the understanding of coding structures.

Students’ belief, interest, motivation, confidence, and Mathematics skill set were found to contribute success in Computer Programming. It was revealed that learning to code in a text-based environment can be made fun. In addition, learning programming with the use of the robot is effective for text-based code first-time.

Govender proposes that ‘the introduction of learning programming integrated through the building of prototypes and coding resulting in autonomous robots enhances the learning experience of text-based code.’

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