May 2006 - Volume 5 Issue 2

Editorial by Alan Poulter
University of Strathclyde

It is always a pleasure to write an editorial which shows the richness of papers within a new issue of this journal. Helen Purchase from the University of Glasgow outlines the introduction of a code of ethical practice for student research projects in computer science. This is a fascinating paper as it gently probes how Departmental culture ("What harm can user trialling of systems do?") reacts to a new development. Change can be hard to ingrain: "Our task is not over: while we may have devised a relatively simple procedure, it is clear that it will need careful monitoring and restating before we can be certain that were are completely fulfilling our ethical duty."

Another culture clash is covered by Ian Beeson and Jackie Chelin, an Information Systems lecturer and an academic librarian respectively at the University of the West of England, who investigate the boundaries and viewpoints that the disciplines of information systems and information science share, but nevertheless interpret differently. This was done while working on a new MSc programme in Information and Library Management. Very clear distinctions are drawn between the primary foci of interest in the two disciplines.

'Departmental wisdom' about student behaviour is investigated by Burd and Hodgson from the University of Durham, who build on earlier work analysing the impact of attendance for a first year module within the University of Central England in Birmingham. This earlier work showed the negative impact that non-attendance had on final results and put in doubt student claims that they could easily catch up from missed lectures. Burd and Hodgson unfortunately find exactly the same thing. They conclude that it is student motivation "that ensures that they carry out their assignment to their full ability and to ensure that they adequately prepare for their examinations. This work has therefore led us to conclude that attendance is a key measure of learning philosophy."

Maria Fasli and Michael Michalakopoulos show how to motivate students when they used two games (one simulating a market for components used to build computers, another one simulating allocation of jobs to server farms) to get students working in groups, trying to come up with strategies to play the games and use this experience to help construct strategies for artificial agents. They conclude that the games were "engaging, challenging and fun and seem to provide a key factor of the learning process: motivation. They also provide instant feedback, which makes them appealing to students as they can observe the consequences of their actions immediately."

Also motivated to improve teaching are Miguel Nunes and Maggie McPherson from the University of Sheffield who reflect on the problems of implementing a constructivist approach ('learning by doing') in an online course on information systems. While the approach is ideal for the topic, the limitations of the delivery medium and expectations geared towards objectivist teaching ("learning by listening") raise problems. They conclude that "failing to address these issues may compromise the success of any online learning initiative".

Finally, looking at how learning by doing can be fostered, Pam Bing and Phil Levy, also from the University of Sheffield , report on the establishment at the University of the Centre for Inquiry-based Learning in the Arts and Social Sciences (CILASS). CILASS is intended to lead the way in enabling students across the University enhance their information literacy capabilities, and use information and communications technologies imaginatively to enhance their learning experience.

Alan Poulter
University of Strathclyde

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