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Practitioner Integrated Education for Vital Computational Thinking Skills


Abstract and Figures

The leap from formal education to a modern work environment is often surprisingly difficult. Having young people struggle in these transitional periods while entrepreneurs and businesses strive to merge new team members is a worthy cause to investigate. The process of teacher education can not adequately cope with the intensity of technological and methodological progress. Based on expert-driven, participatory workshops in Austria, the effects and benefits of practitioner integration are evaluated. In multiple stages based on an action research methodology, the problem-solving approach of Computational Thinking (CT) was introduced to learners aged 16 to 18 (K-12) with the help of outside practitioners. This research project reveals the immense potential of expert integration in a secondary school classroom setting. The primary research question of "What consequences has practitioner integration on Computational Thinking education?" is answered. With the development of sustainable, interdisciplinary interfaces between teaching staff and industry experts a multitude of systemic problems in the educational system can be mitigated and the missing link to Computational Thinking education established. With all involved stakeholders and driven by the needs of young learners a robust and inclusive path to practitioner integrated Computational Thinking education is established.
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Practitioner Integrated Education for Vital
Computational Thinking Skills
Michael Pollak
HCI Group, Institute of Visual Computing and Human-Centered Technology, TU Wien, 1040 Vienna
Martin Ebner
Educational Technology, Graz University of Technology, 8010 Graz
Nanna Nora Sagbauer
Educational Technology, Graz University of Technology, 8010 Graz
Abstract: The leap from formal education to a modern work environment is often surprisingly
difficult. Having young people struggle in these transitional periods while entrepreneurs and
businesses strive to merge new team members is a worthy cause to investigate. The process of
teacher education can not adequately cope with the intensity of technological and methodological
progress. Based on expert-driven, participatory workshops in Austria, the effects and benefits of
practitioner integration are evaluated. In multiple stages based on an action research methodology,
the problem-solving approach of Computational Thinking (CT) was introduced to learners aged 16
to 18 (K-12) with the help of outside practitioners. This research project reveals the immense
potential of expert integration in a secondary school classroom setting. The primary research
question of “What consequences has practitioner integration on Computational Thinking
education?” is answered. With the development of sustainable, interdisciplinary interfaces between
teaching staff and industry experts a multitude of systemic problems in the educational system can
be mitigated and the missing link to Computational Thinking education established. With all
involved stakeholders and driven by the needs of young learners a robust and inclusive path to
practitioner integrated Computational Thinking education is established.
Formal education is challenged by ever-changing and evolving environmental factors. Technological
advancements - and the problems associated with them - often outpace schools' potential to update their curricula
and universities' teacher education programs to bring young educators into service. In this day and age, teacher
education is struggling to adapt to these changes with a rigid and slow process, while available technologies utilised
by young people advance at a staggering rate. Human learning is often informal in nature, with curricula and
teaching staff structuring the learning experience. To establish current technologies and approaches in formal
education this research project explores the introduction of outside experts and practitioners in the classroom
environment. Combining the pedagogical and didactic expertise of teachers with the conceptual knowledge as well
as experience of practitioners lacking teacher education can be mitigated through interdisciplinary collaboration.
Especially in the field of Computational Thinking practitioners can incorporate hands-on knowledge and
act as a vital interface between schools and businesses to unburden motivated educators and enable an
interdisciplinary effort to create a future-proof educational system.
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
Originally published in: Pollak, M., Ebner, M.
& Sagbauer, N.N. (2023). Practitioner
Integrated Education for Vital Computational
Thinking Skills. In T. Bastiaens (Ed.),
Proceedings of EdMedia + Innovate Learning
(pp. 593-602). Vienna, Austria: Association
for the Advancement of Computing in
Education (AACE). Retrieved August 31, 2023
What is Computational Thinking
In the past decade the term Computational Thinking has become very popular in different contexts. So
popular in fact that it has been included in formal education around the world and became a mandatory element of
the Austrian K-12 syllabus “Digitale Grundbildung” in 2022. The term Computational Thinking denotes a practical
problem-solving approach and was first popularised by Jeannette M. Wing 17 years ago (Wing, 2006, 2008, 2011)
who proposed a “universally applicable attitude and skill set” to utilise “abstraction and decomposition” to tackle
complex tasks with the mindset typically utilised by practising computer scientists. In 2011 she proposed a
simplified definition, arguing that in a modern knowledge society every citizen should be able to follow these seven
• Understand which aspects of a problem are amenable to computation,
• Evaluate the match between computational [...] techniques and a problem,
• Understand the limitations and power of computational tools and techniques,
• Apply or adapt a computational tool or technique to a new use,
• Recognize an opportunity to use computation in a new way, and
• Apply computational strategies such [as] divide and conquer in any domain.
The learners in schools today are growing up in an increasingly complex societal landscape filled with a
multitude of challenges as well as incredible opportunities. Skills developed by CT add value far outside the
technical community and offer one way to make sense of the uncertain world that ever more relies on technological
progress. The definition of what exactly CT entails varies widely over its existence in the scientific community
(Pollak & Ebner, 2019). This research study chose to adopt the definition of Csizmadia et al. wherein CT “[...] is the
process of recognising aspects of computation in the world that surrounds us and applying tools and techniques from
computing to understand and reason about natural, social, and artificial systems and processes. It allows pupils to
tackle problems, to break them down into solvable chunks, and to devise algorithms to solve them”(Csizmadia et al.,
2015, p. 5).
With disruptive technologies like ChatGPT (ChatGPT, 2022) on the rise, society today does not need more
programmers but young people that understand the basic computational principles and can become interdisciplinary
interfaces between technologies and the needs of our society. CT can enable every student to “bend computation to
(their) needs” in an effort to reach the Sustainable Development Goals we as a society strive towards. This research
study advocates for rapid knowledge transfer between practitioners and young learners, to enable a civil society
assisted interdisciplinary effort for better education (Bocconi, Chioccariello, Dettori, Ferrari, & Engelhardt, 2016, p.
25; Bocconi, Chioccariello, Dettori, Ferrari, Engelhardt, et al., 2016; Purgathofer & Frauenberger, 2019; THE 17
GOALS | Sustainable Development, n.d.)
Classifying Learning Environments
To classify learning environments a matrix was developed and will be utilised in this publication. With the
established knowledge about the inherently practical and interdisciplinary problem-solving approach of
Computational Thinking, learning environments can be classified with two main axes, representing different major
streaks of education styles found as seen in figure 1.
On the horizontal axis, the model leads from an only practical approach to an only theoretical approach.
Practice-based education is goal-oriented, authentic and often exploratory in nature. This approach is usually found
in on-the-job learning and maker education. Alternatively, on the extreme right on the x-axis, a theory-based
learning environment is seen in contrast, where learners gather and reproduce information from static textual
references often with little context and real-world implications. On the vertical axis, we can mark points from a very
compartmentalised environment at the bottom to an interdisciplinary approach at the top. Compartmentalisation is
usually found in schools where distinct subjects are taught and dependencies and connections are hardly ever
introduced. On the other hand, interdisciplinary approaches offer the chance to include a multitude of stakeholders
that can provide different perspectives and approaches during collaboration and contribute experiences from
different disciplines.
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
Figure 1: Classification Model Axes.
Given these Classification Model axes, it is possible to set different levels of education inside the scheme.
Starting with K-9 education with pupils being up to 14 years old the focus is on very compartmentalised information
gathering within distinct subjects and areas, as depicted in figure 2. Most of the learning in this group is theory-
based. Looking at learners going up to 18 years of age, the classic secondary education age bracket, the
classification shifts towards a more practice-based and interdisciplinary approach but only in rare cases reaches the
In the Austrian education system, vocational schools give learners a chance to explore their practical and
interdisciplinary skillset a little more, offering “work experience programs”. Polytechnical schools also focus much
more on a practice-based teaching approach. Makerspaces as informal learning environments have a clear outlier
characteristic as these settings often enable a very interdisciplinary context for people to work in and explore new
ideas together. Lastly, on-the-job learning programs offer specifically practice-based and often interdisciplinary
approaches to life-long learning in a business or institutional setting (Grandl et al., 2021; Sagbauer et al., 2022; Wolf
& Ebner, 2018).
Figure 2: Classifying Learning Environments.
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
The Missing Link to Computational Thinking
With the knowledge about Computational Thinking as a problem-solving approach that is inherently
interdisciplinary and practice-based it is very easy to spot a major flaw in the current education system. Without
significant changes to the way formal education is conducted, there remains a prominent missing link between the
need for Computational Thinking in schools and the real-world restrictions of formal education.
Figure 3: Classifying CT Education.
Research Design
The iterative research methodology action research (AR) introduced by Lewin was chosen. By defining a
problem area and the inclusion of all stakeholders a participative and collaborative exploration of an area is possible.
The AR approach is expressed by four main characteristics, namely the active participation of involved stakeholders,
an iterative evaluation process, the urge to change a given situation to the benefit of all, and a strong focus on
practical exploration (Denscombe, 2014, p. 73; Lewin, 1946). The students' perspective is one major concern in the
evaluation of these interventions, as learning greatly benefits from a functional interpersonal relationship between
learners and educators (Gibbs et al., 2017).
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
Figure 4: Action Research as an Iterative Process compared to the Scientific Methodology.
Based on previous research the primary question answered during this thesis project was “What
consequences has practitioner integration on Computational Thinking education?”. Four main hypotheses were
tested by the authors based on the requirements of different stakeholders in a formal educational setting. In the study
at hand face to face as well as remote, virtual practitioner integration for a project-based CT workshop was
1 Schools can benefit from outside expertise and current knowledge that is commonly utilised in science, technology
and engineering to develop up-to-date curricula.
2 Policymakers can mitigate the lengthy process of updating teacher education by offering interfaces between
practitioners and teaching staff.
3 Teachers can focus on their expertise in teaching youth while pulling subject matter experts’ knowledge into the
classroom environment.
4 Learners benefit immensely from interacting not only with teachers but also with a wider societal expertise by
enabling hands-on, current, real-world and project-based learning.
Idea and Framework
Based on the research questions the effects of two workshop environments in two secondary schools in
Austria were evaluated. The stakeholders and research partners for this project were two schools in lower Austria.
The first partner school is a rural secondary school with an economic focus in Waidhofen an der Thaya. The school
in 2021 had 208 active students with 66 percent being female. The after-school workshops were face-to-face and
split into six sessions, with the goal to enable youth to create their own project, with a focus on their expertise as
learners and soon-to-be alumni.
To allow the participating students to showcase their individual capabilities and realise their potential an
open, participatory and creative workshop structure was proposed with the argument that a playful, entertaining
environment leads to intrinsic motivation and casual interaction (Dagienė et al., 2019; Grandl & Ebner, 2018;
Knochel & Patton, 2015; Resnick, 2017; Resnick et al., 2009; Saorín et al., 2017; Žižić et al., 2017).
Four pitch events were hosted within classroom settings to reach out to all learners and introduce the idea
to the students. After a registration phase ideas were collected from the students about the functionality they would
like to utilise. In a second phase outside experts from different stakeholders were invited and offered their feedback
from their interdisciplinary and practice-based perspectives. It was very interesting to see the students explore their
potential and find their individual roles in this project. The workshop ended with an evaluation of their success and a
little celebration of the work they did. The findings of this workshop have been published at the 2020 EdMedia+
Innovate Learning conference (Pollak & Ebner, 2020).
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
Figure 5: Evolution of the First Workshop Iteration.
For the later iteration participating students were attending a college for higher vocational education - in
Austria “Höhere Technische Lehranstalt”. According to the schools internal information, only 7 per cent of the
1.104 students in 2020 were female. Workshops had to be held remotely and were condensed to three sessions
within school hours as seen in figure 6. The idea that was pitched to the learners was to create a guideline for
teachers on utilising remote learning to the fullest potential. The students over the last two years gathered a lot of
information about useful online learning and were again asked to give their expert input. The findings of this
workshop have been published published at the 2021 EdMedia+ Innovate Learning conference (Pollak et al., 2021).
Figure 6: Evolution of the Second Workshop Iteration.
Outcomes and Lessons Learned
Learning diaries were posted by the students after the workshop and explored for more insights. These
findings matched with discussions and interviews done during the project's runtime. The main benefit as concluded
by learners was the variety brought by outside experts, with new policies, technologies, ideas and outlooks. The
complexity and authenticity of the challenges offered new insights and sparked curiosity. The change in structures as
well as the chance to work in teams was also mentioned often to be a clear benefit as seen from the learners
Figure 7: Main Benefits of Practitioner Integrated Education.
The second major finding is the lack of time and resources that hampers schools as well as learners. The
diagram on the left shows how little spare time an average secondary education student has for projects like the
proposed hackathon in every school week. This finding shows also up clearly in the reasons mentioned for
deregistration after the pitch event. Participation and personal growth always is linked to spare time and the chance
to follow passion projects.
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
Figure 8: The Lack of Time from Learners Perspective.
During the project, the in-class evaluation of the gained Computational Thinking abilities has been done
with the Bebras testing suite - or in German speaking countries “Biber der Informatik” (Dagienė & Sentance, 2016).
This method highlighted the deeply flawed idea to measure skills and capabilities like Computational Thinking in an
easy and quick manner. Since these workshops concluded there have been additional efforts to create a
Computational Thinking Test and other methods to correctly gauge achievements but introducing these to formal
education is not yet feasible.
To sum up, the findings of this project show that young adults in secondary education benefit immensely
from additional variety in collaboration formats as well as presentation styles. For them, practice-based, authentic
and interdisciplinary learning and making is unusual and allows different styles of contributions, often less feasible
in the strict environment provided by schools. The ongoing and close collaboration and cooperation between
content-level experts and the teacher that knows the students as well as the environment is a crucial factor for
success. On the one hand Practitioner Integrated Teaching can not replace modern teacher education and the efforts
involved in it. It can on the other hand feasibly fill an obvious gap that has been evolving between current
technologies and slow, methodical teacher education (Močinić & Piršl, 2019).
The fight for time is real and neither inside the curricular expectations nor outside of formal educational
settings a lot of time is reserved for personal growth and informal educational offers like makerspaces and
hackathons. Students as well as teaching staff are restricted to a stringent and often stressful timeline that can be
impervious to outside challenges. The evaluation and grading of proper, sustainable and useful Computational
Thinking skills is hard and not yet at a point where schools can utilise the tools to do it. Without usable grading
schemes the introduction of mandatory Computational Thinking education is problematic and will lead to further
Considering the chosen setting it became obvious that students are not used to the freedoms and
responsibilities that complex problems introduce. Workshop settings make it easier, within a varied environment, to
break out of this mould and have the learners experiment more with their preexisting knowledge. The slow
integration of Computational Thinking in formal education opens a window for new concepts and ideas to grow and
be integrated into classrooms. These workshops have shown that - especially after the leaps made during the
COVID-19 pandemic - remote learning and teaching is a valid way to host workshops and interact with students.
Face-to-face workshops have been better received but under some circumstances, virtual classrooms offer clear
benefits. Using diverse methods and technologies enhanced inclusion significantly. During the workshops and in
discussions with teachers afterwards, it became clear that even short-term interventions led to improvements in
understanding and involvement (Moote et al., 2020; Plaza et al., 2020; Schön et al., 2020; Shaw & Kafai, 2020)
One of the key reasons to develop these experimental settings was to reduce the workload for teachers. The
hypothesis four years ago was to unburden the teachers in the classrooms from the immense speed of technological
and conceptual growth. By allowing teachers to collaborate with technology leaders and content-level experts the
hope was to reduce stress and the need for technical advanced training. The lack of in-class time as well as
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
educational funding impede the efficacy of motivated and engaged teachers. Ultimately the workload for teaching
staff was not as significantly reduced as hoped. The clear conclusion has to be that the expertise and interpersonal
connection of teachers can not be understated. Not technologies but people are the key to engaging and sustainable
Conclusion and Future Work
For the conclusion the classification model axes introduced in the beginning become crucial. All
educational efforts can be defined on these two fundamental axes and based on them, this publication has shown a
significant missing link between formal education and the prerequisites for Computational Thinking. This problem
solving approach inherently is an interdisciplinary and practice based skill and schools lack the proper setup to
readily integrate it. Additionally learners require a certain level of understanding of the world around them to utilise
it within the challenges they are facing.
Figure 9: Establishing the Missing Link to Sustainable CT Education.
Practitioner Integrated Education enables a multitude of benefits shown during these experimental settings.
To get schools - in particular vocational schools like the two partner schools - to the level of interdisciplinarity and
practicality required would entail a number of major transformations as shown on the right side of the diagram.
Additional funding, extra time and a host of bureaucratic hurdles are required for these changes and in practical
terms, it is unreasonable to expect these adaptations to come to fruition. This innovative model of Practitioner
Integrated Education fills the gaps seen on the levels of required authenticity as well as increased complexity by
allowing practitioners from outside the formal educational system to share their expertise and experiences.
EdMedia + Innovate Learning 2023 Vienna - Vienna, Austria, July 10-14, 2023
Figure 10: Practitioner Integrated Education as a Solution.
By allowing real people with real stories to lead, learners can recognise aspects of computation in the world
that surrounds them every day, create links and practical expertise themselves. At the same time, engaged interaction
with people from outside their known environment, from other disciplines guides them to a deeper understanding of
the society, nature, systems and processes that are key to our existence as humans.
These main elements of Computational Thinking offer immense potential for this and future generations to
become the smart, independent and creative young people that we all need urgently out of our classrooms.
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An innovative, entry-level informatics course enables students to ponder CS problems in different ways, from different perspectives. Find the full text at ACM for dowload:
Context: The increasing and evolving presence of technology in the lives of children is reflected in the recognition in many educational frameworks that students should possess and be able to demonstrate computational thinking skills as part of their problem-solving practice. Problem: We discuss the process of creating tasks for the so-called Bebras challenge, a contest on informatics (computing) and computational thinking addressing school students of all ages. These tasks have a short problem statement and should be solvable in a few minutes. The challenge explored is how to formulate and structure such tasks so that there is still enough space for creativity in the solution process and how to organize the learning settings so that constructionist learning is supported. Method: We give an experience report about the creation and use of short tasks for learning computational thinking. We argue that the constructionist perspective involving the use of the Bebras-like tasks on computational thinking offers an appropriate frame for enriching learning activities, fostering collaborative and individual creativity. A process-oriented approach was selected for the research done in a study where we observed children’s activities in solving the short tasks on computational thinking. Results: Our analysis of the creativity, as exemplified in several observations of pupils while solving short tasks that involve computing concepts (the Bebras cards), shows that this kind of microlearning serves well to motivate pupils to be more interested in particular computing topics. The concept of the short tasks meets the usual way of teaching in primary education. Pupils and teachers develop a positive attitude to computing related topics. The analysis shows that the short tasks encourage pupils’ creativity in both solving and modifying them. Implications: Our study provides some preliminary evidence that, from a constructionist perspective, collective as well as individual creativity can stand as an appropriate framework for designing learning activities addressing computing concepts and supporting computational thinking. Moreover, our study opens a new field of research in combining creativity and computational thinking from a constructionist perspective. Constructivist content: Our more general aim is to support computing education, especially constructivist learning environments (both technology-based environments and those without technologies) in primary education.