MCE Working Papers - 2000

MCE Working Papers for 2000

Programming Languages and Teaching
Patricia Higgins and Nora Brophy

This paper examines the teaching of Computer Programming in Second level schools and investigates whether Java, a modern Object Oriented Programming language, can be used to teach programming in a way that engages the average student. In order to do this, a short introductory course in Java was developed and piloted in a transition year mixed ability class. The results of this course were examined and compared to the results of a similar course in C++.

Assessing the use of GUI application builders as an introduction to Programming
Ita Howe, Howard Duncan and Rory O'Connor

This study was undertaken as a response to the need for programming to be taught as a Post-Leaving Certificate course. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA, 2000) is currently researching this area of study. The aim of this dissertation is to assess the use of GUI based application building as an introduction to programming.

Use Of Classnet As An Educational Tool To Enhance Learning
Aideen O'Shaughnessy and Rory O'Connor

This paper examines the educational benefits of an interactive learning system in the area of network. The success of a computer network as an educational tool is measured by the educational benefits it provides. Research in the form of a case study is carried out in an attempt to verify the educational benefits one such interactive system 'Classnet' provides to both teachers and pupils. The pedagogic belief a teacher holds influences their use of computers. Traditional learning theories are examined and the view towards computers within each of these theories is identified. The need for teacher directed learning in the computer room is discussed and the role of the teacher is explored. Educational tools are used traditionally as a labour saving device. The varying uses in education of computers as a tool are discussed. Computer networks and interactive network learning systems are reviewed and their features are examined to set the scene for the case study.
Research was carried out to assess whether an interactive network learning system could enhance the educational benefits of a network, thus improving the learning experience for teacher and pupil. A case study was conducted to examine the benefits one interactive system 'Classnet' provides in the teaching of desktop publishing to 5th class students. The results showed that the productivity of the pupils in the study group was significantly increased by the use of Classnet as a teaching tool and also the use of Classnet appeared to maximise class time and allow the teacher to monitor pupils work more effectively.

Lifelong Learning: An evaluation of why mature students take courses in ICT
Nicholas Brady and Fintan Costello

This paper investigates the reasons put forward by mature students as to why they decide to do as course on Information and Communications Technology (ICT). It shall also investigate the barriers that inhibit people from participating in further education. For the purpose of this research mature students are participants on a course forty years of age and over.
While further education has in the past tended to focus on the seventeen to twenty four age group. There is now a growing acceptance that more mature students should be trained in the latest technologies. The question I wish to propose is why would someone aged 40+ decide to partake in course on ICT
For this reason three different types of ICT courses were surveyed, an evening course in a VEC College, a part time morning adult class and a group on FÁS Training scheme (2 groups). All the courses had as an underlying emphasis the training of students in Information and Communications Technology. The research has been collected through a survey of students who matched the criteria of the sample to be studied.
Research has shown that older people who continue to be active learners enjoy healthier lifestyles and maintain their independence longer than those who stop learning.
The dissertation is broken into a number of chapters. There is a general introduction, a chapter on demographics, the characteristics of adult learners, what are the barriers to learning encountered by adults, the motives for learning, the survey analysis and finally conclusions and results.
A questionnaire was used to gather the necessary information to investigate the barriers and access the motivational influences on adult learners. It was found that adults were motivated by a number of different factors (work related or social). The conclusion is that in any class involving adults there could be two diverse reasons why people are attending, one is to achieve a goal orientated (learn a new skill) and the other is activity orientated (to meet new people, socialise).

Assessing the Effectiveness of using Internet based Learning Tools in Transition Year Mathematics
Seamus Callaghan

Technological progress in our society and educational reform are two movements bringing about change in the classroom today. Both advocate the use of information technology as one means of solving some of the problems inherent in the present education system. This study involved implementing a learning programme, which used Internet-based learning tools in a mathematics classroom. The author chose the learning tools as they cater to learner guided instruction. Two groups of secondary level students participated in the study, one group used web tools as the primary source of instruction in mathematics, and the second group learned using a traditional method of instruction.
Pre-test and post-test scores were analysed using t tests and a single-factor ANOVA. Findings from the statistical analysis showed no significant difference in the test scores between the experimental group and control group, assuming a confidence level of 95%. The conclusion was formed that the groups using the web tools received a method of instruction equal to the traditional method of instruction.
Learning mathematics with the aid of web tools presents the student with a new learning environment requiring new skills. The second part of this study examined the influence that computing experience and attitude towards using computers had on learning using web tools.

A Comparative Study In The Use Of A Traditional Mouse And A Marble Mouse
Mary Largey and Howard Duncan

Many students experience difficulty using a mouse as an input device. Several studies offer different opinions as to which devices perform better under various conditions. This study investigates the use of a two-button mouse and a marble mouse in the school environment. The subjects under investigation were fifty-two second level female students in Transition Year, ranging in age from 15.49 years to 17.13 years. Student hand size and grip strength were measured to see if they influence control of these hand-held devices. Student hand coordination was measured using a lift and drop jigsaw to identify the range of ability within the group. A similar click and drag jigsaw task was performed on computer with correlations drawn between both data sets. Two series of tests were done to ascertain student ability using two different mouse devices for input. One set of tests required subjects to click on a series of small targets. The second set of tests required subjects to click and drag shapes to a predetermined position on screen. Both test were relevant to the basic skills these students would learn and use frequently in their introduction to word processing and their introduction to browsing on the Internet. The study has implications for choice of input device at second level education where resources are low and money needs to be wisely spent.

A Study of the Relationship between Computer Usage and Self-Esteem: does the type of software package used have any significance?
Mary Quinn and Ray Walshe

There is a wealth of research indicating the importance of self-esteem. Despite this, there is no consensus about the definition of self-esteem. For the purposes of this study, the term 'self-esteem' is understood to be the global self-esteem of the individual. This study aimed to investigate if there was a positive link between guided computer usage and self-esteem. A second point of interest was if the type of computer package used was of any significance.
The study was of a pre-test/post-test, control group structure. The subjects in the three sample groups were 10-11 year old children attending a designated disadvantaged school in west Dublin. The self-esteem levels of all the children were assessed prior to the treatment period using the Self-Esteem Index by Brown and Alexander (1991).
The two experimental groups were given six weeks of computer lessons. Group A used an open-ended, creative package called Storymaker and Group B used a drill and practice maths package called Math Basics. After the treatment period the self-esteem levels of all three groups were re-tested using the same testing instrument.
The raw data was statistically analysed using the computer package SPSS. Results showed a significant improvement in the overall or global self-esteem levels of the group using Storymaker. There was no significant improvement in the self-esteem levels of the group using Math Basics or in the control group. Data analysis showed no difference in the pre-treatment and post-treatment scores in perceptions of academic competence in any of the three groups.
On the basis of these findings, it may be suggested that computers can be used to enhance the global self-esteem levels of children, but that the type of software package used is of significance. This study shows that a creative, open-ended package is more effective than a drill and practice package as a means of increasing children's self-esteem.

The Suitability of Visual Basic as a Programming Language in the Transition Year Programme
Michael Russell and Nora Brophy

This study addresses the question of whether an introductory programming course can be taught using Visual Basic with the same effect as QBasic to a class of Transition Year students. One group of students took an introductory programming course in a text based programming language (QBasic) and the second group took the same course using Visual Basic.
At the end of the course both groups were compared on their understanding of general programming knowledge and specific knowledge relating to the language being taught. Other factors associated with programming ability were tested to determine if any transfer of problem-solving strategies occurred as a result of the Visual Basic course.
The results indicate that Visual Basic programming helped students master the concepts of programming at least as well as QBasic and in some cases better. The comments from students of the VB course indicated that they enjoyed programming more and found the visual aspect of the language stimulating.
The popular opinion of students of Visual Basic embraces the notion of enjoyment with the language. The visual features of the programme encourage students' interest, consequently increasing motivation. In contrast students' replies record boredom and lack of motivation in the traditional language.
Based on the experience of students and the study Visual Basic appears to be an excellent choice as a first programming language. Students do master the fundamentals of programming, at least as well as in QBasic, and at the same time they create applications that are visual, exciting and interesting. Visual Basic leaves students with a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of control. Visual Basic rewards the hard work of students in a way that text based languages cannot.

The Applications of Computer Technology in the Diagnosis and Remediation of Children with Specific Learning Difficulties (Dyslexia)
Bernadette Dwyer and Alistair Sutherland

This study addresses the issues involved in using computer technology in the diagnosis and remediation of children with specific learning difficulties. It looks at current thinking and research in relation to the uses of computer technology in this regard. A study was carried out in two phases. The first phase investigated the use of computer technology in the diagnosis of specific learning difficulties utilising a software package -CoPS (Cognitive Profiling System). This provided a clear graphical profile of the cognitive learning strengths and weaknesses of the fourteen participants. The second phase investigated the use of computer technology in the remediation of children with specific learning difficulties. It used a pre and post test design paradigm in which the same participants were divided into a computer based group using a software spelling package-Starspell 2001 and a control group using traditional teaching methods. Both groups were Pre tested for spelling achievement using the Schonell spelling test and a spelling test designed by the author.
Results showed that there was a significant increase in spelling achievement in both the computer group and the control group. However, that there was no significant difference in mean spelling achievement between both groups. Both teaching methods were effective. Qualitative analysis indicated a higher level of motivation, engendered by the computer technology, in the computer- based group.
Based on the review of literature and results found in this study, it can be concluded that computer based technology is a viable supplement to traditional classroom teaching methods and has a role to play in the diagnosis and remediation of children with specific learning difficulties.

A Comparison of teaching Guitar Lessons for Beginners using a Multimedia Approach with a Conventional Approach
Mairead Bates and Rory O'Connor

The main focus of this study is to investigate the use of information technology-based tools in the teaching of guitar lessons for beginners. The primary problem associated with the above is that the teaching of musical instruments tends to be neglected in second-level schools and colleges throughout Ireland, due to a lack of facilities, an overloaded timetable, restricted availability of staff and a subsequent shortage of time available to be allocated to music.
This can be overcome to a certain extent through the use of computers. Recent research in this area was reviewed. The characteristics of an effective tutorial are outlined and the software chosen, The Ultimate On-Line Guitar Tutorial, is evaluated fully in this work. This study involved a comparison of the traditional method of teaching guitar lessons, using a hardcopy version of the tutorial lesson, with a method based on using an interactive on-line tutorial. This comparison was conducted in order to determine which method might provide the greater improvement in learning among a representative group of second level students. The degree of improvement in the two groups was assessed using tests in an experimental pre-test/post-test design, together with a final retention test, a skills test and unstructured observations of the control and experimental groups.
Results indicated a slight improvement in the control group's performance over that of the experimental group. However, from a teaching perspective, the use of technology promoted increased levels of motivation and enthusiasm in the pupils. This was due to several factors; self-paced learning, endless patience of computers, etc. There is much room for progress to be made in this area, but the computer can not do it all alone. Without help from the teacher, students' progress is slower. Best results are achieved using a combination of self-paced computerised instruction and some external pacing by the teacher.

A study to investigate if computer-assisted learning can aid in the improvement in spelling of a student with general learning difficulties at second level
Eleanor Cuddihy and Jane Horgan

The purpose of this study was to investigate if computer-assisted learning can aid in the improvement in spelling of a student with general learning difficulties at second level and to compare this method to traditional teaching methods.
Additionally, the study seeks to establish if there is a correlation between reading and spelling ability. It further seeks to discover student attitudes towards instruction on computer of spelling and establish that the computer acts as a motivational stimulus to these students.
Each group contained six boys and ten girls. The experimental group used Speaking Starspell 2001 and the control group used traditional methods. Data was gathered on spelling and reading performance at the start and end of the study period. A retention test was also administered two weeks after completion of the period. A questionnaire to measure attitude was completed by students in the computer group and teacher observations were noted.
The results indicated that both methods were as effective at improving the spelling achievement of the students. When gender was examined, it was found that females performed better in the experimental group, but this was not the case for boys. The females also responded better than the males in the experimental group. The retention test found no significant difference for each group. A positive correlation was found between reading and spelling.
All students were found to have a positive attitude to the computer classes. They felt that their spelling had improved, indicating a higher level of self-esteem and sense of achievement. These positive effects of CAL definitely result from the individualised nature of the instruction.
Clearly, the computer has a role to play in education. It should be used as a supplement to traditional teaching methods, allowing the teacher to have more personal contact with students and give extra intensive instruction effectively.

Michael Lynch

The lack of participation by students in learning has been the focus of a lot of educational research. Many proponents of the use of multimedia in education cite it's feature of interactivity as a vehicle for more participation by students in learning.
This study focuses on the development and evaluation of a computer-based mathematics tutorial using the authoring language HyprtStudio. The content of the tutorial was the two Leaving Certificate Mathematics topics Permutations and Combinations. The tutorial was evaluated using two pre-leaving certificate classes control group taught using traditional methods and an experimental group using the computer tutorial. The two groups were pre and post tested. The two groups were not chosen randomly but were shown to have similar ability and attitudes.
The evaluation also included an assessment of the use, by students, of the interactive feature of multimedia. The tutorial consisted of four classes (approx 35 mins). Two of the classes were mainly linear in design while one was completely linear and another allowed student control.
The students perceptions of effectiveness of mathematics software as compared with traditional teaching was also studied. The study reviewed the literature on the use of multimedia in education and in particular mathematics education. A review of mathematics software available to Irish students was also included.
The study found no significant difference for the post-test results of both groups.
There was evidence that the self-pacing aspect of the tutorial was badly used by weaker students. Weaker students tended to rush their studying of the tutorial and unable to complete the practice questions were forced to repeat the class. The tutorial documents the tendancy of students to avoid studying concepts. This stems from their belief that concepts are less important than being able to successfully apply rules and principles. There was no significant difference in the effectiveness of the different designs. The students preferred traditional teaching to mathematics software. The student interviews revealed a belief that mathematics software could not replace the teacher.

ICT in Irish Second-level Schools: Removing the Barriers
Leo Hogan and Margaret Farren

The need to integrate information and communication technologies (ICTs) into first and second-level education has been acknowledged internationally as the best means of achieving computer literacy throughout the school system. The Irish government's plan to achieve this goal, IT2000, was launched in November 1997.
This dissertation examines the barriers that post-primary teachers have experienced in trying to integrate ICTs into their teaching.
The views of 166 classroom teachers, 10 ICT (or IT) co-ordinators and 10 principals in ten second-level schools across Ireland are used in the study to identify the barriers. The survey was conducted by a self-administered questionnaire, which was mailed to the teachers in 10 schools. A quantitative analysis provide a 'snapshot' of ICT use in schools and the barriers present, while a qualitative analysis explores the reasons why some teachers are reluctant to use ICT in their teaching.
The results show that, while most teachers are positive about the role of computers in education, many of them do not have the skills necessary to integrate ICT into teaching and they find that a lack of time is a major barrier. Principals have not actively promoted ICT integration and they have not involved enough teachers in ICT planning. This lack of leadership presents a serious impediment to the process. Principals, co-ordinators and classroom teachers require further ICT training.

Classroom of the Future
Gerard Cleary and Andy Way

This study is an evaluation of a School Integration Project (SIP) called 'Classroom of the Future'. The main areas addressed are the models of ICT training that are available to the teachers of the nine schools participating in the project.
ICT training of teachers is an important facet in the integration of computer technology into the classroom. To place it in an appropriate context other issues are addressed which include the professional development of the teacher, the link between training and classroom practice and changes within the school organisation that are necessary for the integration of ICTs to be successful. This study provides evidence that indicates that

  1. training alone is not sufficient to encourage teachers to use ICTs in their classrooms;
  2. the type of training is shown to have a bearing on a teacher's willingness to use these ICTs;
  3. positive attitudes towards ICTs and positive opinions of ICTs in education are not sufficient to ensure the success of this SIP project.
This evaluation is a quantitative study and data was collected by a full canvass of the teaching population in these nine schools using a questionnaire. The reasoning behind this method is explained and the many findings are presented and discussed. A list of recommendations to guide further study of the Classroom of the Future follows the conclusions that are outlined in this paper.

Improving Problem-Solving Skills Using Programming Constructs
Gerry Harvey and Renaat Verbruggen

The purpose of this dissertation is to see if teaching second level students a short course in programming constructs improves their problem solving skills. From the fifth year population in the school in which I teach, two groups of students were selected, a control group and a research group. Both groups sat the same pre and post test, which consisted of eight word questions, specifically chosen to test various problem solving skills. Problem solving skills tested involved mathematical reasoning, induction, geometry, heuristics, problem decomposition and recombination.
The research group undertook a short course in C programming for ten sessions, where they learnt about different data types, iteration and selection. When the programming course ended, both groups sat the same test as they had for their pre-test.
One of the tests I used when analysing the data was a paired t test. It indicated an acceptance of the hypothesis at a ninety five percent confidence interval that teaching programming to second level students improves their problem solving skills. One of my main conclusions was that there is tentative evidence to suggest that there is a benefit to second level students in learning programming constructs.
However, due to the limited nature of this research, I advocated that more research is required to achieve a greater and deeper understanding of the relationship between programming and the improvement of problem solving skills in second level students.

The Integration of Computers into the Career Guidance Classroom
Davnet Neary and Rory O'Connor

This thesis investigated the effects of using computers for research purposes in a career guidance classroom. Computers were used in the form of the internet and a software package by fifth year male and female students over a period of ten weeks.
Students using the Internet were given a list of useful career web-sites provided on the Scoilnet site. The second group used a new Irish software package called 'Careers World' by Woodgrange Consultants provided to all Irish secondary schools this year.
A Career Questionnaire was designed for the purpose of the study. This questionnaire contained eight investigative questions to be used to research careers. Eight careers were chosen for the students to investigate that ranged from familiar to the more unusual. The aim was to see if researching careers using computers would increase students knowledge of certain careers.
A control group of students was used that also researched the careers without using computers. Instead the group used the more traditional method of books and pamphlets.
An analysis of pre-test and post-test results for the control and experimental groups revealed a significant improvement in scores. A further analysis comparing post-test scores of the book group with first the internet group and then the software group showed no significant differences. But a more in-depth investigation comparing scores of the experimental groups with those of the control groups for each career revealed significant differences for certain careers. Students evaluated the resource used and reactions to using the Internet and Careers World seemed very positive overall. In conclusion, a combination of both manual and computer resources appears the most beneficial.

A Model Of Practice For IT And The Internet In A Post Leaving Certificate College
Peter Somers and Tony Moynihan

Traditionally, Irish Education lagged behind our European and American neighbours, in terms of technology. However, with IT initiatives, such as IT2000 providing the much required finance and advice, this situation will be redressed. However, before IT can become an integrated element of Irish Education there are many associated problems to solve.
This research will develop a list of recommendations to form a model of practice for IT and the Internet that will result in increasing the level of integration of IT and particularly the Internet.
The model consists of recommendations covering Infrastructure, Hardware, Software, College Policies on IT, Communications and Staff Development.