Culture and cognition in information technology education

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Perustieteiden korkeakoulu | Doctoral thesis (monograph)
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Verkkokirja (1626 KB, 198 s.)
There has been a substantial expansion in the provision of both undergraduate and postgraduate programs offered in English in Finland since the early nineties. It was not until a decade later that research into the results of this education and student experiences begun. The particular focus of the present study is on cognitive processes and learning strategies in multicultural groups of a Bachelor of Engineering programme in information technology in a polytechnic, and the subsequent development of professional expertise in engineering. This work combines anthropological theory of mental schemas and new findings in neuroscience with sociocultural theories of learning in order to formulate a theoretical framework for engineering education. The framework has proven its usefulness in explaining student behavior in multicultural groups and in devising efficient modes for education. The study brings to light the often ignored embodied, emotional, motivational, and social aspects of cognition in learning. The cross-disciplinary approach has robust support from empirical research findings in information technology education. The research consists of surveys, field observations, and analysis of materials produced by students as part of course work. Social scripts and cultural communication patterns dominate behavior, not only in immigrant students but in all humans. The schema of procedural instruction, which has been assumed to be a universal cognitive ability, appears to be product of certain cultural or educational practices. This research shows that even though the ability may be innate, its application in particular context is learnt. Internalized cultural schemas in scientific thinking explain differences in cognition. Familiarity with technology is acquired through constant exposure. Logical, systematic thinking, as well as an ability to integrate theoretical knowledge to practice should be more heavily emphasized in education. A noteworthy finding that resulted in this research is the intricate interplay between English writing, Asian and African character systems, program coding, embodied writing skills, and visual perception. Neuroscience assists in understanding the connection of programming skills, different types of mathematical thinking, and the development of numerical abilities. This study supports the view that standardized, technology-centered instruction does not meet the needs of multicultural student groups. On the other hand, a holistic and integrating approach to learning that includes a variety of teaching methods provides means to support the development of student self-regulation. Collaborative learning assists students in sharing experiences and coping strategies. The best recipe for a functional study community is a mix of cultures where no single culture is overly dominant. In fact, a cultural mix appears to be conducive to creative teamwork and innovative projects. Moreover, preparatory courses, personal guidance and tutoring, and the formation of a cohesive student community alleviate integration problems.
information technology education, engineering competence, cultural schema, neuroscience and learning, immigrants
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