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Doctoral defence of Friday Joseph Agbo, MSc, 10.5.2022: Co-designing a smart learning environment to facilitate computational thinking education in the Nigerian context 

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Forestry will be examined at the Faculty of Science, Joensuu Campus and online.

What is the topic of your doctoral research?

My doctoral research is on how to teach computational thinking to novice computer science students to acquire problem-solving skills relevant to understanding programming concepts. Computational thinking is necessary for all 21st-century learners. Unfortunately, most computer science students from sub-Saharan Africa struggle to understand programming concepts and have difficulty in coding. With virtual reality technology and a game-based learning approach, this study developed a smart learning environment to provide a suitable learning approach that allows students in the Nigerian higher education context to gain computational thinking skills. My study provides evidence on the affordances of virtual reality technology in mediating teaching and learning.

What are the key findings or observations of your doctoral research?

This study shows how to use state-of-the-art technology such as virtual reality to positively impact students’ cognition, improve their computational thinking competency, and spark their interest to gain more problem-solving skills. In addition, one of the valuable contributions of this study is the online co-design process (OCD) developed to showcase how to conduct a user-centered study in an era of a pandemic such as COVID-19, which renders a face-to-face meeting between researcher and users infeasible. My study provides an alternative online co-design process as one of the new approaches that can be useful for researchers from different contexts and disciplines who are conducting a user-centered study.

How can the results of your doctoral research be utilised in practice?

In this study, we provide ways to support computer science students - who lack an understanding of programming concepts – by introducing them to computational thinking using the developed virtual reality game-based application (iThinkSmart). This application is open source, making it accessible to anyone, and can be used to teach students in classes. Furthermore, my study also offers recommendations on how to mainstream computational thinking in the context of higher education institutions in Nigeria and developing countries in general.

What are the key research methods and materials used in your doctoral research?

The research followed the design science research methodology that outlines five distinct stages of research activities which begin with problem explication through to evaluation of artefact. Therefore, the first research activities were focused on explicating what form of challenges computer science students from Nigeria were facing that limits their understanding of programming. Then, we co-designed the requirements for the intervention, the game ideation, and the low fidelity prototype with the students. Next, we demonstrated the prototype and evaluated the efficacy of the prototype to ascertain whether students learning experience was impacted. Finally, we elicit information on the strength and weaknesses of the developed prototype based on the user’s experience. The feedback from users is being used to improve the prototype as required by the design science methodology.

The doctoral dissertation of Friday Joseph Agbo, MSc, entitled Co-designing a smart learning environment to facilitate computational thinking education in the Nigerian context  will be examined at the Faculty of Science and Forestry, Joensuu Campus, Metria, M100, and online, on 10 May 2022 at 1 pm. The opponent will be Professor Erik Barendsen, Radboud University Institute for Science Education, The Netherlands,  and the custos will be Research Manager, Docent Jarkko Suhonen, University of Eastern Finland. Language of the public defence is English.

For more information, please contact:  

Friday Joseph Agbo,

Public examination online (Zoom)

Dissertation book online

Photo available for download

Aakala, Tuomas

Associate Professor

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Aalto, Mari

Teaching Coordinator

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Aalto, Onerva

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Aalto, Sari

Project Researcher