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In the last issue of CDTL Brief, we presented to you the first of a two-part discussion on IT in Education Today. In this second part of the discussion, we feature reportson some of the current uses of IT for teaching and assessment in NNUS and Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and guidelines on the facilitation of the online disscussion forums

October 2001, Vol. 4 No. 4 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
A New Paradigm in Teaching Computer Science
 
Mr Tan Tuck Choy, Aaron
Lecturer, School of Computing
 

This article is based on the author’s personal experiences in employing some popular IT tools in his teaching of two Computer Science modules: CS1101C (Programming Methodology in C) and CS1103 (Digital Logic Design).

Introduction

Web-based learning is in vogue. 1 Proliferation of internet resources and the advent of web technologies have encouraged a paradigm shift 2 towards a more dynamic, web-based, hypermedia-oriented, and platform-independent environment, allowing many ways in which internet tools may be employed to enhance learning 3. Riding on this trend, NUS launched the Global Campus concept in July 1998. Some 7,000 Plug and Play (PnP) points have since been installed across campus, with an attractive loan scheme made available to students to purchase notebook computers for use in selected modules and instruction for staff to upload their course materials on the Internet.

Email, Electronic Submission of Assignments and Newsgroups

The ubiquitous email system has become an essential means of communication. A course mailing list can be easily created and maintained. Via email, staff can disseminate urgent announcements and students may send in their queries. In some institutions, an email handler is developed to maintain an archive of these queries and their responses.4

Email may also be used for electronic submission of assignments. In CS1101 and CS1101C, an electronic submission programme written in shell scripts and C is used for students’ submission of programming assignments. Students’ programmes are stored in depository directories, which are made accessible to the tutors for grading.

The electronic bulletin board, or BBS, is a convenient forum for discussion. Students can post messages into a newsgroup and queries are promptly read and responded to by others who can offer help. The newsgroup is a good means to supplement the course, providing the students with an informal channel to exchange information. Although messages on BBS expire after a certain period of time, lecturers may wish to save significant postings, reorganise them and put them on the course website.

Web-Based Courseware

Course websites can be uploaded on the Web. Lecturers can tailor the design of their webpages to suit the nature of their courses and their personal preferences. The NUS Integrated Virtual Learning Environment (IVLE) is a platform for creating, maintaining and viewing course webpages and related courseware. It also provides the IVLE Workspace for staff to create course outlines, detailed courseware and other facilities.

Course websites offer great convenience to both staff and students. Information can be disseminated and updated quickly, without having to rely on physical meetings. This has become more crucial as the introduction of cross-faculty modules by the University means that it has also become more difficult in finding a common slot to meet all students taking the same module. On the average, students on the CS1101C and CS1103 courses access the course websites about 1.2 times a day.

Java and Animated Algorithms

In a programming and algorithm course such as CS1101C, animated algorithms have been shown to have positive effects on enhancing students’ understanding, as they can watch how the algorithms work. Some systems even allow students to set the parameters themselves. X-window Transition-based ANimation generatiOn (XTANGO) 5 is one such algorithm animation system for creating graphical illustrations of programmes and algorithms. Recently, Java applet has become a popular choice. However, it is time-consuming to develop such visualisation tools. Interested readers may check out the Educational Technology research at the Graphics, Visualization and Usability Center (GVU) at the College of Computing . For a simpler alternative, Microsoft© PowerPoint allows the inclusion of some simple animations.

Online Quizzes

With the growing trend to reduce the weightage of the final examination, the importance of continual assessment has been raised. More and more modules in the School of Computing now have a weightage of 40% (a few even less) on the final examination, with the other 60% (or more) contributed by continual assessments: tests, quizzes, projects, etc. Some courses, such as CS1101C and CS1103, assign regular cgi-scripted online quizzes that comprise multiple-choice questions. The CS1101C and CS1103 websites contain such self-administered online quizzes and scores are immediately reported.

These self-administered quizzes are very popular among students as they appreciate the instant feedback such quizzes provide. Very often, lecturers want to ensure that the students know their basics well, but time constraints put us in a difficult position. The provision of such quizzes extends learning activity outside class hours, where students can evaluate their lower-level skills such as knowledge and comprehension on their own. Higher-level skills such as application and analysis can then be tested in other formal tests. By setting quizzes, lecturers can also gradually build up a question bank.

Some modules, such as CS1101, take a step further and administer graded quizzes through the Web. Naturally, such quizzes require tighter security control and checks such as a time-stamp to register the time at which the quiz is attempted.

Lecture-On-Demand (LOD)

At the start of Semester Two of the academic year 1998–9, three modules—CS1102, CS1103, and CS1301—were mounted on the Lecture-on-Demand (LoD) front , and since then, IT1001 and IT1102 have joined in. LoD is a strategic initiative of the School of Computing to further harness the power of information technology. Lecturers of these three modules prepare their course material using appropriate presentation software and record their lecture slides and monologues into Lotus© ScreenCam files, which are then played back through a web browser, or CD-ROMs. Students may choose to view (and listen to) these lectures at their own leisure, freeing themselves of any time or physical barrier. Recitations are conducted in place of live lectures, in a 1:2 ratio in terms of allotted time. Recitation groups are also of a smaller size of fewer than 50 students per group. In this way, students benefit from greater interaction with the recitor, made possible by the smaller class size.

Some clarification is in order here, as LoD might be erroneously associated with distance learning or self-study. A misconception held by some students is that LoD wipes out human interaction from the teaching process. This is not true. Considering that our School’s enrolment is in the region of over 500 students per year, there is not much room for interaction during lectures in the first place. Recitations, tutorials, consultation hours, and email exist to provide the channels for interaction and the personal touch at all levels, ranging from face-to-face communication, to remote electronic exchanges and unidirectional broadcasts.

Conclusion

No single method is perfect and able to serve all our needs. Our challenge is to continually explore existing technologies, keep a lookout for new ones, and to find an optimal mix to meet the objectives of providing a more dynamic and stimulating learning experience for our students. However, in general there are still many limitations and glitches to overcome. These technologies are relatively new, and still evolving. Speed and bandwidth are a major concern. Initial cost is high, and that includes not only the infrastructure required to support these facilities, but also the amount of work the course instructors have to put in, which can be daunting. Continual support from the University, both in terms of hardware and expertise, is essential in making this a success.

Despite the benefits of these mechanisms, we have to remind ourselves that no amount of fanciful gadgets can hide or make up for poor content, or the lack of organisation. The use of tools does not render the seven deadly sins of teaching 6 —arrogance, dullness, rigidity, insensitivity, vanity, self-indulgence, and hypocrisy—any less relevant. Quite the contrary, the proliferation of these attractive tools, which are made more convenient and easy to use by the day, might make us even more susceptible to committing these sins, if we lose our bearings and over-rely on technology at the expense of the wisdom of good teaching.

References
  1. Bertrand Ibrahim, Franklin S.D. Advanced Educational Uses of the World-Wide-Web. The Third International World Wide Web Conference. 1995. http://www.igd.fhg.de/www/www95/papers/89/paper.html

  2. Christopher M.B., Frances W.G., Michael T.G., and Rockford J.R. 'A Paradigm Shift! The Internet, the Web, Browsers, Java, and the Future of Computer Science Education'. Proceedings of ACM SIGCSE. Vol. 30, No. 1, 1998. pp. 145-152.

  3. Pilgrim C.J., and Leung Y.K. 'Appropriate Use of the Internet in Computer Science Courses'. Proceedings of ACM SIGCSE, Barcelona. Vol. 28, Special Issue, 1996. pp. 81-86. 4. T.

  4. Nishida, A. Saitoh, Y. Tsujino, N. Tokura. 'Lecture Supporting System by using E-mail and WWW'. Proceedings of ACM SIGCSE, Pennsylvania. Vol. 28, No. 1, March 1996. pp. 280-284.

  5. Stasko, J.T. Tango. 'A Framework and System for Algorithm Animation'. IEEE Computer. Vol. 23, No. 9, September 1990. pp. 39–44.

  6. Eble, Kenneth E. The Aims of College Teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.
 
 
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A New Paradigm in Teaching Computer Science
   
Using IT for Tutoring and Assessment at Ngee Ann Polytechnic
   
Maximising the Potential of Computer Mediated Discussion: Guidelines for Facilitation