This article is based on the authors
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
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.
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.
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.
At the start of Semester Two of the academic year 19989,
three modulesCS1102, CS1103, and CS1301were 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 Schools 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
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 hypocrisyany 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stasko, J.T. Tango. 'A Framework and
System for Algorithm Animation'. IEEE Computer. Vol.
23, No. 9, September 1990. pp. 3944.
- Eble, Kenneth E. The Aims of College
Teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994.