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Investigating the Impact of Entry Qualifications on Student Performance in Computing Programmes at Undergraduate Level

DRUMMOND, SARAH,ANNE (2009) Investigating the Impact of Entry Qualifications on Student Performance in Computing Programmes at Undergraduate Level. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Abstract

Context:
This thesis investigates the impact of prior A-level study on students taking degree programmes within the Computing discipline. The focus of this work investigates opportunities to providing more-personalised learning which is based on students’ existing knowledge, for example, by providing additional learning support to those students who had studied a particular topic at A-level. Although other studies have been carried out in this area, these studies have typically focused on outcomes across multiple programmes. Due to the variation of content taught, the researchers carrying out these prior studies have been unable to draw conclusions at the level of specific assignments.

Aim:
The aim of this work is to investigate the impact of A-level subject selection on the performance of those studying Computing programmes at Durham University.
Method: This thesis is a detailed study, tracking Durham students, from entry until the completion of year two, over a particular three year period. This three year period of study was selected as, during these three years, Durham’s entry qualifications and course content remained largely unchanged. Hence, the unintended impact of entry qualification and content change were not factors that needed to be taken into consideration.

A statistical analysis framework has been developed to investigate the impact which choosing specific A-levels has on student performance. Particularly, this work considers the impact on student performance, in course work (to the level of specific assignments) and examinations, of Maths, Computing, ICT, and Physics A-levels. The research compares the outcomes for students who have these qualifications against those who have not. Specific combinations of these A-levels are also considered.

Results:
The results highlight some benefits in year one for students studying specific qualifications: largely Maths. However, the most significant result of this work is that, at the end of year two, any differences are insignificant. Therefore, while students with specific A-levels may gain benefits initially, at the point these student enter the final year of their programme, these differences no longer impact of their ability to study. The curriculum within Durham, therefore, already appears to address the needs of students, specifically by covering knowledge, or promoting individual study, of all topics necessary for successful progression. This research has, thereby, revalidated and added to the current body of knowledge in this research area.

While this work has identified students without specific A-levels are not adversely affected, what it points to is that some students with A-levels, for instance, in Computing, perceive their early University education to repeat much of their A-level work. So, although this study was not able to recommend personalisation of learning in support of those who have not studied specific A-levels, this work does highlight that, perhaps, personalised learning for those who have taken specific A-level may be necessary.

Conclusions:
The outcomes of this research have clear and important consequences for Higher Education Admission Policies for the Computing discipline. As an outcome, it would seem that the requirements placed by many institutions on entrants to have specific A-level is unnecessarily restrictive and may be preventing many students entering a discipline in which they would, otherwise, have been successful.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:A-level qualifications; prior knowledge; undergraduate performance; computing; learning support;
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Engineering and Computing Science, School of
Thesis Date:2009
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Mar 2010 15:58

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