ACT: Advanced Computational Thinking in the New Zealand Digital Curriculum

Funding year: 
2 years
Auckland University of Technology
School sector
Project start date: 
January 2020
Project end date: 
March 2022
Principal investigator(s): 
Assoc. Professor. Andrew Gibbons and Associate Professor Ricardo Sosa
Research team members: 
Emma O'Riordan, Leanne Gibson, Keu Lorangi and Sam Harris
Research partners: 
Manurewa School MakerSpace and Manurewa School Kaahui Ako o Manurewa


Introduction/Project description

Students and teachers who demonstrate an advanced computational reasoning can ethically use, creatively apply, and critically question the values and impacts of technology in society. This requires a deep and critical conceptualisation of computational thinking in the new Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko (DTHM) curriculum. This research systematically, collaboratively, and creatively explores a curriculum of Advanced Computational Thinking (ACT) within the Maker Space community of Te Kura Tuarua o Manurewa Manurewa High School. The Manurewa Maker Space is an after-school space that works with student-led initiatives in digital technologies and entrepreneurship. In this project we engage with the Maker Space community in an action-oriented, design-based, and creative participatory inquiry in order to recognise and develop the potential contribution of the DTHM curriculum to the broader educational aims of Aotearoa New Zealand. 


In this project we work with the Manurewa Maker Space community to identify and develop new opportunities and strategies through interventions that support, complement and augment ongoing student-led activities and projects with an orientation to reflect upon and discover ways of seeing, approaching and using computational thinking and digital technologies. Special emphasis is placed on new ways of learning and applying computational thinking concepts and skills that contribute to critical, creative, and ethical uses of technology that positively impact society. For this project the research question is: 

How do students and teachers experience engagement with an advanced level of computational reasoning that prioritises ethical, creative, critical, reflective, and community dimensions?

Why is this research important?

Learning with and about digital tools and developing digital literacy skills for the 21st century are essential elements of digital citizenship for all children. An energetic, nationwide, programme for computational thinking in schools promises to enrich curriculum experiences for all children and in particular to provide opportunities for communities for whom extracurricular digital resources and activities may be limited. While many teachers are no doubt excited about the opportunity to work in the digital technologies and computational thinking space, there is a need to provide stimulating examples of what pedagogical practice can look like. For all students, and particularly for students who select a pathway in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) careers, the creative and critical dispositions embodied in ACT seeks to equip them to make more empathetic, creative, and socially conscious decisions as they develop new technologies that impact society. For those who are not intent on STEAM careers, the digital literacy embodied in ACT seeks to enable them to better understand the adoption, application, and adaptation of new technologies in their professional and personal environments. Future generations that can engage in advanced computational thinking will be better positioned to identify the complex affordances of emerging technologies for a sustainable future. 

What we plan to do

The ACT project enacts action-oriented, design-based, and creative participatory methods of inquiry. As such, the researchers are active participants in the Maker Space Community. The project draws from the following research cultures to synthesise its epistemological and methodological approach: Constructionist learning and dialogical pedagogies; Research-through-Design and Design-based Research; Participatory Design; and Science Fiction and Speculative Design.

Evidence is obtained from descriptive and analytic sources relying primarily on qualitative methods. These include observations, interviews, korero, group discussions, design journaling, and design artefacts. Data collected include researchers’ and teachers’ notes, photographs of studio spaces and artefacts, audio recordings of group discussions and interviews, questionnaire responses, design journal entries, and annotated photographs, sketches, code, and physical models contributed by participants. Questionnaires to examine ACT dimensions are planned for the end of each stage of the study. Insights and reflections will also be sought from tutors and teachers who participate in the MS. Online blogging and forum entries, posters, boards, video-logs and exhibitions will contribute to the design. The research team anticipates three types of ACT activities:


  1. ACT Studio activities. Design briefs are defined following the criteria for authentic projects that stimulate creative responses. ACT studio activities are defined as “designerly” tasks. They emerge and align with ongoing student projects to promote generative questions that sustain ACT capacities. Gamification strategies are used in these ACT studios to prioritise embodied, situated and collaborative dimensions of learning. Speculative briefs including “What if?” questions are used in ACT studios as a starting point to promote interrogation of the assumptions underpinning the technology and the problems at hand. While we have built indicative examples of ACT studio briefs, the research team will invite participants to co-create and adapt these to align with their own projects. 
  2. Questionnaire and group or one-on-one kōrero to capture if and how the studio workshops shape their a) driving factors and expectations; b) attitudes to technology; c) views of own and others’ creativity; d) preparedness for collaboration and learning; and e) disposition to hold paradox. 
  3. Student-led activities and learning initiatives that participants bring to the ACT project. These could be related to their projects or experiences in formal parts of the curriculum, sports and cultural activities, etc.

Contact details

Associate Professor Andrew Gibbons
(09) 921 9999 ext 7929

Associate Professor Ricardo Sosa
(09) 921 9999 ext 6767