The number of new graduates entering the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry is becoming a critical issue in our economy. At present, this number is insufficient to meet industry requirements (Information and Communications Technology Council, 2008). This shortage of graduates can be attributed to a number of factors, one of which is the ability of schools of computer science and information technology to attract and retain new students. Often, students enrolling in these programs drop out due to academic reasons. Therefore a need exists to identify those factors which correlate with academic performance among ICT graduates. These factors could then be used to “pre-screen” those students interested in a career in information technology. Such a prescreening would help students self-reflect on whether a career in ICT is suitable for them before committing the financial and emotional resources and time in undertaking a course of study for which they may not be suited. At the same time, such a tool could help other students who had not considered an ICT career to quickly determine whether they share qualities typical of ICT graduates.
The Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC), the federal industry labour force advisory panel for ICT, predicts skills shortages across the country and actual labour shortages in Western Canada through 2015. In 2007, the economy added approximately 16,800 ICT jobs—ahead of the forecasted 14,500. In the first half of 2008, a further 4,200 jobs were added. In its 2008 forecast, the ICTC predicts net job growth plus replacement for retiring workers will require 15,795 to 22,345 jobs per year (Information and Communications Technology Council, 2008). Yet, across Canada, enrollment in post-secondary computer science programs is in a prolonged decline with enrollment numbers down 33% from their 2001-2002 peak (Information and Communications Technology Council, 2008). Within Atlantic Canada, enrollments are down 37% from their 2001-2002 levels. Ontario and Quebec are between 50-60% of their 2001-2002 levels. Enrollment across the Prairies is at 65% of its peak. Only British Columbia has maintained enrollment in Computer Science (CS) program, maintaining 97% of its 2001-2002 level. Baccalaureate graduation numbers across the country have declined from 4,900 in 2003-2004 to 3,300 in 2006-2007 and have continued to decline (Slonim, Scully, & McAlliser, 2008).
Significant issues are emerging about how to successfully teach computer programming at the pos-secondary level in North America. Slonim, Scully, and McAllister (2008) observed that Computer Science (CS) programs in North America typically have a low retention rate from first to second year. Instructors teaching in the disciplines of Information Technology and Computer Science (IT/CS) frequently lament that some students just can’t seem to grasp the necessary skills to be successful in their studies. David LeBlanc, Chair of the Computer Science Department at UPEI states that only 12-25% of students entering his program will graduate; Holland College, also in PEI, expects to lose 50% of its information technology students between the first and second years (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2010). This statistic is also validated by the retention rate within the Computer Information Technology program at Lethbridge College. Often IT students seem to have an inability to understand the logic, process and methodology behind algorithmic development—a foundational topic in the field of information technology (Thomas, Ratcliffe, Woodburry, & Jarman, 2002).
Given the time and cost of educating a post-secondary student, the current state of affairs seems like an inefficient use of resources by both the student and the institution. Therefore, is it possible to identify those factors which correlate with student success in computer science and information technology programs? And if so, what are these factors? In attempting to isolate factors that can predict success in IT/CS studies, a survey of available literature points to four areas that show promising results:
- Intrinsic motivation of students as a precursor to their academic achievement;
- The learning styles of students;
- The skill and ability of students to manage their time and study behaviours; and
- The ability of students to solve problems.