Identifying Embodied Metaphors for Computing Education

Andrew Manches, Peter Edward McKenna, Gnanathusharan Rajendran, Judy Robertson

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24 Citations (Scopus)
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Computing education is increasing in global importance, with calls for greater understanding of conceptual development that can inform pedagogy. Here, we report a study investigating elementary computing concepts through the lens of Embodied Cognition. Sixteen students (9 female) studying university-level computing were asked to explain their understanding of computing concepts (without materials) in individually video-recorded sessions. We analysed the gestures generated for three elementary concepts: algorithms, loops, and conditional statements. In total, 368 representational gestures were identified across 48 (16 × 3) explanations, thereby providing evidence that offline thinking in this domain is embodied. Our analysis of representational gestures showed that participants drew upon two overarching embodied metaphors in their explanations: 1) Computing Constructs as Physical Objects, in which participants simulated manipulating physical objects (e.g., pinching) when referring to range of computing constructs, and 2) Computing Processes as Motion along a Path, whereby participants moved their hands along one of three body-based axes when referring to temporal sequences. We contrast our findings to similar research in mathematics and discuss implications for computing pedagogy – namely the role of gesture in the classroom and technologies that can exploit embodied metaphors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105859
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Early online date31 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


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