The merits of Empirical Modelling (EM) principles and tools as a constructivist approach to computer science education are illustrated with reference to ways in which they have been used in teaching topics related to the standard computer science curriculum. The products of EM are interactive models – construals - that serve a sense-making role. Model-building proceeds in an incremental fashion through the construction of networks of definitions that reflect the observables, dependencies and agents associated with a current situation. The three principal case studies discussed (teaching bubblesort, solving Sudoku puzzles, and recognising groups from their abstract multiplication tables) highlight respects in which EM accounts for aspects of computing that cannot be effectively addressed by thinking primarily in terms of abstractions, procedures and mechanisms. The discussion of EM as a constructivist approach to computer science education is set in the context of an analysis of constructivism in computer science published by Ben-Ari in 2001. Reconciling EM's constructivist epistemology with this analysis involves recognising its pretensions to a broader view of computer science.
The full pdf of the paper was published online in the June 2009 edition of the HEA ITALICS e-Journal, but may no longer be accessible from that source. It can also be accessed here.
Links to relevant models
Several Web Eden models are discussed in this paper. They relate to a visual pun, teaching bubblesort, formal and pragmatic perspectives on sorting activities, human solving of Sudoku puzzles, and ways to present the group tables of the five distinct groups of order 8 that highlight informal interpretations and basic elements of group structure.