Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Computer Science

First Advisor

Dr Maureen Killeavy

Second Advisor

Dr Robert Sheehy


This research is a longitudinal case study of a cohort of five hundred and seventy-eight students attending computing courses at seven Institutes of Technology in Ireland. The investigation charts the progress of this cohort of students throughout the four-year duration of their programme from the time they commenced their course in 2001 to their graduation in 2005. The central aim of this research is to investigate the factors contributing to the achievement and retention of these students as they progress through their course. Relationships and patterns of association between attainment on the course and students’ prior educational, socio-economic and demographic background, personal characteristics, engagement with their course and aspects of their lifestyle are investigated. The extent to which a combination of these factors contributed to the academic attainment and retention of these students on their course in each year is explored. It is anticipated that the findings of this study will be of relevance to potential students and academic staff involved in the development and delivery of computing courses in colleges in Ireland. Quantitative and qualitative research methods of enquiry are used to undertake a systematic inquiry, grounded in fieldwork, to explain why students succeeded at various levels of academic attainment on the computing courses under investigation while other students, for various reasons, failed to complete their course. Extensive interviews with students are triangulated with findings from staff interviews and questionnaire data to define the context and capture the views and perceptions of all participants in the study. These findings are presented and analysed in the context of the existing literature on the topic both from a theoretical point of view as well as within a contextual framework. Findings from this longitudinal study have shown that there are a wide range of mediating factors that influence the achievement and retention of these students on their courses. Mathematical competence and a strong work ethic were found to be the most influential factors on academic attainment along with interest level in the course and hours spent working. As anticipated, a positive career outlook, a careful approach and ability to balance social life and study commitments, particularly in the early years of the programme also influenced success and persistence on the programme, while networking and making a successful transition to third-level were also seen as important. The findings also reveal that older students attained the highest academic results in all four years of the course, the majority of whom entered the programmes as non-standard applicants. The superior academic attainment of females in all four years of the course and their overall positive perceptions of their course is encouraging in a climate of falling female enrolments in computing courses globally. The key indicators of ‘at risk’ students include measures of previous academic attainment (i.e. Leaving Certificate points, maximum grade in Mathematics & Science subjects and academic attainment in the previous year of the course), overall interest in the course, a positive college experience and hours spent working. The factor analysis identified that students who are ambitious are least at risk and a positive career outlook and the ability to balance social life and academic commitments in the new third-level environment are important factors in the early years of the programme. Intervention measures to support such students are recommended.

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Carol O'Shea PhD V2

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