June 2008 - Volume 7 Issue 1
- Andrew Cox, Philippa Levy, Peter Stordy and Sheila Webber (University of Sheffield). Inquiry-based learning in the first-year Information Management curriculum
- Neil Gordon and Mike Brayshaw (University of Hull). Inquiry based Learning in Computer Science teaching in Higher Education
- Roger McDermott, Gordon Eccleston, Garry Brindley (The Robert Gordon University). More than a good story – can you really teach programming through storytelling?
- Chris Beaumont, Tessa Owens, Mark Barret-Baxendale, and Bill Norton (Liverpool Hope University). Blended problem-based learning for widening participation: a case study
- Andrew Cox, Stephen Tapril, Peter Stordy & Steve Whittaker (University of Sheffield). Teaching our grandchildren to suck eggs? Introducing the study of communication technologies to the “Digital generation”
- Chris Dennett and John Traxler (University of Wolverhampton). Project Bluetooth, engaging and supporting Computing First Years through mobile phones
- Scott Turner and Gary Hill (University of Northhampton). Robotics within the teaching of problem-solving
- Janet Carter (University of Kent at Canterbury), Nick Efford (University of Leeds), Stephan Jamieson (Durham University), Tony Jenkins (University of Leeds), Su White (Southhampton University). Taxing our best students
Editorial by Alan Poulter
University of Strathclyde
This issue contains a strong theme of problem-based learning. Cox, Levy, Stordy and Webber report upon the use of inquiry-based learning to enhance a First Year module on information management. Students were given a group task in which they picked an information management topic and investigated the research on that topic. A special laboratory and intensive staff support were provided. The students thrived in this environment but there were disappointments. Reflection seemed less popular via the blogs provided than had been assumed and students still remained very task focussed and did not take up all the opportunities on hand to explore.
Gordon and Brayshaw also explore the virtues of inquiry based learning and argues that it would be relevant for the computer science curriculum, despite the seeming structured and procedural nature of the discipline. The paper also raises larger questions of how teaching and research might complement or compete with one another in the current higher education environment.
Two papers exemplify this proposition that problem-solving as a teaching style works well in computer science. Turner and Hill write about teaching programming in Java, using robots and simulations of robots (Mindstorm and Microsoft Robotics Studio) to make physical and explicit in robot actions the operation of algorithms implemented in Java. Not surprisingly, students really enjoyed learning basic programming skills this way. McDermott, Eccleston and Brindley also provide a different avenue to follow to teach introductory programming as they used Alice, a programming environment which creates a 3D world in which objects and their actions can be programmed. Because the approach is visual and enables students to see the outcomes of their programs, it develops coding skills faster. Also Alice tries to prevent syntax errors, another source of potential confusion for beginners to programming. Their informal evaluation rates this change as a success.
Carter, Efford, Jamieson, Jenkins, and White address the issue of challenging and motivating more experienced programmers on introductory programming classes through the medium of an inter-institutional programming competition between at four UK institutions. By designing a competitive activity within the context of an existing curriculum, the participants ensured that the students met the learning objectives
A secondary theme for this issue is the application of technology in teaching. Beaumont, Owens, Barrett-Baxendale and Norton look at rejuvenating an information technology module used on an access course at a location at a distance from the university. Technologies like a VLE, video conferencing, email etc were intended to reduce face to face contact time while the content and assessment were re-styled to involve the students working in groups more, tackling set problems. Albeit with minor issues, the re-design was successful: students were more motivated, the level of results was maintained and lecturer travelling time was reduced. Unfortunately the module was subsequently dropped due to re-structuring at the university.
Cox, Tapril, Stordy and Whittaker investigated patterns of Internet use of students and staff as preparation for an information management module on organisational communications. While it found a distinct generational difference – email, web 1.0 for staff, IM and Web 2.0 for students – there were also qualifications to these stereotypes. For example, students were overwhelmingly readers of, not contributors to, of Web 2.0 resources. Also outside of their ‘comfort zone’ technologies, their knowledge of Internet use and resources was very limited.
Finally in this theme on technology in teaching, Dennett and Traxler offer a short paper with an original big idea. Distributing information and course materials to students can be done a number of ways, none of them ideal. Their new approach uses Bluetooth, a communications protocol supported now by most mobile devices (phones, PDAs and laptops) which students will own. They set up a server that used Bluetooth to distribute the gamut of course materials, from notices of room changes to videos of lectures. This seems a really neat solution which combines easy access for student’s own devices with simplicity of operation and cost benefits.