February 2011 - Volume 10 Issue 1

Editorial by Stephen Hagan, University of Ulster & Anne Morris, Loughborough University

Welcome to the first issue of Italics 2011. This spectrum of papers carried in this issue covers Flexible Learning and Learning Environments, Employability, the promotion of media and information literacy skills for postgraduate students and support for novices undertaking introductory programming modules.

The paper by Nganji, Brayshaw and Tompsett, suggests a semantic approach to achieving reasonable adjustments to the presentation of e-learning resources to meet the needs of disabled students, drawing on an ontology of various disabilities encountered in higher education. The process aims to present disabled students with tailored learning resources relevant and suitable for their individual and specific needs. The paper proposes a viable assemblage of established architectural components which overall could deliver such a customised Learning Environment.

The paper by Crane, Benachour and Coulton identifies and discusses infrastructural and sociological barriers limiting access to learning environments via mobile devices. A survey of network coverage data, mobile widgets and students’ experiences suggests that a lack of a dedicated mobile application or mobile website coupled with inept network access impose significant constraints at this time.

The paper by Thomas, Waugh and Smith describes an approach to the generalisation of tools for teaching and learning the skills associated with modelling with diagrams. The paper briefly describes the existing tools and one approach to the automatic marking of diagrams. The authors report on their work to generalise both a marking algorithm and a drawing editor in such a way that revision tools can easily be generated for new domains. They also report on how they have incorporated their tools into their own institution’s Moodle-based Virtual Learning Environment.

The paper by Whitworth, McIndoe and Whitworth details an open educational resource designed to develop media and information literacy skills in postgraduate students. The authors describe the motivations for undertaking the project, the model of media and information literacy education which they used to create the materials, how the resource was created, and its evaluation using eight students. The outcome is the provision of a stand-alone resource that can be completed in 7 to 10 hours of independent study by postgraduate students. The resource is to be used by Manchester University in early 2011 but the authors are keen for other institutions to adapt and use the resource and to receive feedback. Of particular interest is the use of the resource across different disciplines. Links to the live resource are provided in the paper.

Laramee offers a template and guidelines underpinning the mechanics of writing a final year student project report in Computer Science. These may serve as a useful starting point for students and new project supervisors alike and are offered openly for adoption and use.

Kerins provides a reflective analysis of the utilisation of Higher Education Innovation funding to establish a software development team within a department of computer science and information systems to grow industrial links, and to effect synergy between students, academic staff and external clients in problem solving and in forging solutions to real-world problems. The author outlines numerous benefits derived from the initiative including the honing of the employability skills of participating students.

Solly and Matthews presents an overview of a real-world interaction design assignment where the focus was on encouraging students to explore the conceptual design space to find creative solutions. By providing students with background information extracted from case studies and with access to a domain expert, the students developed a deeper understanding of the context. This assignment allowed for the integration of research and teaching in a way that created an exciting environment where both students and teachers became co-learners. The paper also discusses the benefits to the students of working with experts drawn from a range of non-cognate disciplines.

The paper by Coleman and Nichols presents a case study on significant improvements in student attendance and in assessment mark profiles obtained by pairing students within a first year algorithmic programming module. Students worked together in pairs and were also assessed in pairs. The authors also captured the students’ views on working and being assessed as a paired unit and noted how the collaborative relationship and peer support continued beyond the module of study and contributed positively to the overall student experience.

The paper by Coull and Duncan reflect upon the problems associated with learning and teaching first year University Computer Science programming classes and review the various support tools and techniques which have been developed to improve student success in this area. The authors propose ten requirements that a support tool should satisfy and offer these to those interested in selecting among the support tools available or moving to build a dedicated system.

Jayal, Lauria, Tucker and Swift presents an experimental study wherein the understanding and proficiency of students studying introductory programming via Java is contrasted with an approach which taught basic programming concepts and constructs via Python before moving to Java. The study reported a marked improvement in the performance of those students initially exposed to Python over those using Java throughout the module. The results as set out are an interesting contribution to the ongoing introductory programming language debate.

The paper by Salt, Lallie and Lawson presents the experiences of students studying Computer Forensics at the University of Derby, together with the views of the teaching and technical support staff. The authors strongly suggests that there is a growing mismatch between students expectations and reality, an underdeveloped ability to problem solve and communicate findings and unrealistic expectations of the job market. The authors suggest that Universities need to appraise their activities honestly and within an ethical framework. In introducing digital forensics courses they suggest that there is a need to rapidly assess the needs of our students and to ensure that our practices and their expectations align with the reality of the employment market.

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ISSN: 1473-7507