MCE Working Papers - 2001


MCE Working Papers for 2001



MCE-0101:
The Use of the Phoric Elements 'he, she, it' and 'er, sie, es' in Long-distance Cohesive Bands in English and German Source Texts: A Corpus-based Study
Gabriele Schön

The goal of this dissertation is to execute a corpus-based contrastive investigation into the use of linguistic elements in English and German important for communicating, particularly in a second language. Personal pronouns are frequently-used cohesive means which play a crucial part in making a text coherent; however, they have received relatively little attention in the literature of second-language learning. The main difficulties associated with this part of speech are the functional disunity of the category of personal pronouns, inappropriate anaphor resolutions, and inadequate formal agreement. Unfortunately, many of the conventional resources like the foreign language grammars and textbooks available to teachers and students do not provide them with a means of attaining the level of conceptual and linguistic knowledge necessary for adequate use and perception of the structures. Recent advantages in computer technology, however, particularly in the discipline of corpus linguistic, have resulted in the development of tools and resources which enable teachers and students to challenge existing patterns of explanation for grammatical phenomena such as pronouns.
The corpus-based approach allowed for the introspection of authentic data in terms of frequency counts and concordances which otherwise would have been impossible in the given time frame. The evidence in the corpora was used as a basis for the language comparison of pronouns in regard to frequency of occurrence and aspects like syntactic role, topological tendencies and distance measures. The conditions for high functionality of pronouns in continuing a previously obtained focus of attention proved to be the same in the two languages: in order to refer to an easily accessible cognitive object the subject role, recency of mentioning or a high saliency of the object referred to were important. However, language specific differences in regard to information processing like sentence length, word order, and topicalisation strategies proved to have an impact on the use of the pronouns. This led to the conclusion that these differences in usages must be considered when dealing with pronouns in order to ensure proper production and reception of foreign language texts.

MCE-0201:
The Creation and Evaluation of an Irish Language Learning Website for Gaelscoileanna
Bríd de Lóndra and Andy Way

This study exposes the absence of an Irish language learning Website suitable for use in Gaelscoileanna and makes an initial attempt to address this absence. The deficiency of such a resource deprives this population of learners, who are instructed exclusively through the medium of Irish, of a tool that not only plays an increasingly influential role in language learning in general but also and more specifically, in languages of a minority status. The presence of multimedia, hypermedia and interactive exercises in Websites as well as the vast quantity of texts can all be instrumental in the refinement of language skills. Furthermore, the promotion of minority languages over this modern medium not only provides an effective method of disseminating language resources but also heightens the prestige of the language.
Research concerning the creation of the Website was placed in the context of current educational and language learning research carried out into on-line resources. Due to the absence of research in the specific area of Irish language learning and the Web, the potential users of the tool were targeted and their opinions and recommendations recorded. Hence the creation of the Website was influenced by both a generic and specific exploration into this field of education.
Evaluation of the Website was of a two-fold nature. It focused on the impact of exposure to the Website on both performance in and attitudes towards the language in question. Both investigations yielded positive results.
This research should provide an impetus for further research into language acquisition and the Web, with special regard to Irish - an area which heretofore was largely untouched.

MCE-0301:
A Comparison of Teaching Geography In the Primary School using the Internet and a Conventional Approach
Christine Flanagan and Ray Walshe

This study is an evaluation of the impact that the use of the Internet has on the teaching of Geography to children in the primary school. This dissertation designs, implements and evaluates a Geography website. It assesses its impact on a group of children. It compares this impact with a control group who were taught by traditional teaching methods. The project involved fifty children in total who were divided into two groups (control and experiment group) for the purpose of the experiment.
A detailed account is provided of the growth of the Internet and its impact on the primary educational system. A detailed account is also given of the design and implementation of the website. The reasoning behind the various design features of the website (http://homepage.eircom.net/~norsweden/index.htm) is explained and the tactics for ensuring its success are outlined.
The research is both quantitative and qualitative in nature. Data was collected by testing both control and experimental group using the pre-test and post-test method. The results of both groups were then subjected to statistical analysis. Teacher observations were also noted. In addition the children's opinions were evaluated in the form of a post-questionnaire. A list of recommendations to guide further research on the area is outlined in the conclusion.

MCE-0401:
Technology On The Desk
Anne Brogan

This study investigates the effects of the use of technology (computers and calculators) in the mathematics classroom and in particular under examination conditions. Two first year classes of equal mathematical ability were taught a statistics module based on the Junior Certificate Syllabus over 15 lessons. For the duration of the module and for the statistics examination the experimental group used Excel and calculators and the control group used calculators and graph-paper. Before the module both classes filled in a pre-questionnaire to ascertain what previous technology experience they had and what their attitude to mathematics was like. The results showed that both groups had a lot of experience with technology and they had a poor attitude to mathematics. The NFER test, which profiles mathematical skills, was administered both at the beginning and at the end of the study. The former without using a calculator, the latter with a calculator. The students performed significantly better when they used the calculator. During the module both groups filled in worksheets and at the end of the module were given the same statistical test. There was no difference in the results of the worksheets between the two groups but the experimental group did better in the statistics test. At the end of the module both groups completed a post-questionnaire to find out what they thought of the module and to investigate if there was any change in their attitude to mathematics. There was a slight negative change in their attitude to mathematics but there was an improvement in their attitude to doing the basic topics in mathematics and the experimental group enjoyed using computers. In general it can be concluded that within the limitations of the study technology has a positive effect on mathematics both in the classroom and in an examination.

MCE-0501:
The Effect of an Introductory Course in QBasic Programming on the Mathematical Problem-Solving Skills of Transition Year Students and on their Attitudes to Mathematics
Mary Teahan and Gary Keogh

The purpose of this research was to investigate the possible transfer effects of learning to program in a high-level computer language on the problem-solving skills of second-level Irish students. The theory that a student will gain confidence in his/her mathematical ability as a result of following a programming module was also examined.
The participants in the study were selected from the Transition Year class of an all-female, urban secondary school. The control and test groups were selected on the basis of the spread of mathematical ability. Both groups were pre- and post-tested using those sections of the Differential Aptitude Tests which measure Numerical Ability, Abstract Reasoning, Mechanical Ability and Space Relations.
The test group was exposed to an introductory ten-hour programming module in QBasic delivered over a six-week period. The programming tutorial, designed by the author, adopted Polya's problem-solving strategy and the instructional goal was to demonstrate the nature of problem-solving rather than to create proficient programmers. The control group received no compensatory computer classes.
The results from the study indicated no significant change in the test group's mathematical problem-solving scores as measured by the Differential Aptitude Tests (DATs) when compared to the control group's scores. It was therefore concluded that no transfer of skills had occurred as a result of the treatment. The students also completed pre- and post-questionnaires on their attitudes to Mathematics. A significant change of attitude to Mathematics occurred in the test group when compared with the control group.
Limitations of both the design and the results of the study were presented and recommendations were made for future research.

MCE-0601:
Issues of Developmental Appropriateness in Web site Design for Young Children
Elaine Connolly and Rory O'Connor

With the proliferation of Web sites targeted at young children, a practice for design of effective Web sites requires attention. There is an obligation on those concerned with children's welfare to fashion specific guidelines and paradigms regarding Web design for the young. Characteristics of preoperational thinking, affect the experiences of Web site usability for young children. Navigational ease, quality-content, memory load, and aesthetic appearance are important features for consideration.
Generally, Web usability guidelines are concerned with a generic adult audience. Individual differences between audiences are not explicitly acknowledged. Differences range from domain knowledge, cognitive ability, cognitive style, age and gender to physical capability. Young children differ from their adult counterparts on the Web in their age and cognitive abilities, and may have different experiences of the Web.
In this study twenty six children, all between the ages of five and a half to six and a half, acted as subjects in usability tests on eight Web sites. Both qualitative and quantitative data were gathered. Questionnaires, interviews, bottom line data consisting of time measurements and Web traversal scores, and direct and indirect observation techniques were used to garner the data on the children's Web experiences.
This report concludes that there are notable features of Web sites, which can positively affect the Web experiences of young children. These features can be appended to the general guidelines available, though the designer needs to be critical about applying general guidelines to Web sites for children because of the inherent bias for an adult audience. Preliminary guidelines for Web site design for young children are communicated and the results produce findings which may shape a larger scale study in the future.

MCE-0701:
Design, Development, and Evaluation of a Computer Based Learning Module in Pathology
Paul Costello and Charlie Daly

In the third year of medical school, University College Dublin, the students study disease processes (Pathology). They learn the causes of disease, the mechanisms of disease processes and how individual organs are affected. Medical textbooks show this change through a series of pictures, diagrams and text. This study demonstrated how computer based animation can also be used to show how disease changes. It also showed how computer based learning can be used to implement the important features of problem-based learning. In problem based learning, the starting point is a problem which the student must solve. The student feedback on the module was correlated using a CGI script.
An interactive module was designed on the subject of Thrombosis, which is the basis for common diseases such as heart attack and stroke. It was written using Macromedia Flash 4 which is a standard program for web based animation. Clickable images and buttons revealing the answer to a text question were also included in the module to increase interactivity and to implement problem based learning. An online feedback form was written to assess the students' views on this method of teaching. It was linked to the module and the data correlated using a CGI script.
111 students from a class of 170 provided feedback. The survey results indicated that the 99.1 % students found the animations made the practical more interesting. 88.3% thought that animations were a better way to show how disease changes compared to images and diagrams. Clickable images were preferred as a method to learn how to identify structures in an image by 94.6% of respondents. Overall, 89.2% of students thought that the new module was very good or excellent.
These results indicate that animations should be used as method to teach pathology in the future. Computer based learning can be used to implement problem based learning using a combination of buttons and clickable images.

MCE-0801:
Laptop Computers Will Aid The Integration Of Information And Communications Technology Into Irish Schools
John O'Dwyer

The Schools IT 2000 A Policy Framework for the New Millennium has identified the need for Ireland to work towards integrating Information and Communications Technology into the schools curriculum if economic advantage is to be maintained. The National Council for Technology in Education has been established in Dublin City University to implement the programme. To date teachers have received basic training in the use of technology. Schools have received grants to purchase IT hardware. The student Computer ratio has fallen from 26:1 in 1998 to 19:1 in 1999 (Irish Times, Education and Living Supplement, Dec. 1999). Researchers have identified a student computer ratio of 4:1 as a minimum requirement for the successful integration of ICT's into the curriculum. This paper focuses on efforts by others to introduce student laptop computers into the curriculum to provide equal access to technology.

MCE-0901:
Analysis of a TopClass Subject Resource Web Site for use by PLC Students
Robert Griffin

The purpose of this research was to investigate the benefits or otherwise of learning as it is related to the use of a TopClass subject resource web site.
Two groups of students were taught the use of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to develop Web Pages over a of six week period. One using a TopClass web resource (the experimental group), the other using traditional classroom methods (the control group).
Each group was given a pre-test of 40 MCQ questions to assess their previous knowledge of web page design. A t test demonstrated that both groups were of similar ability. The students were also tested at regular intervals during the course of the experiment.
A literature review identified the following issues regarding learning in a hypertext environment, which were studied and discussed, Cognitive Constructivist learning theories, Structuring/Designing an online course, Student evaluation, Student Instructor Interaction and Arguementation.
A measurement was taken of the extent of outside reading. 'Outside Reading' was defined as any reading research students completed on the topic in question other than class notes or material supplied by the teacher. This was measured using a diary where students listed additional materials used. It was found that the experimental group tended to use electronic sources while the control group tended to use paper based resources.
A final questionnaire found that most students were satisfied with the module and found TopClass to be a good resource. The research concluded that TopClass achieved equal results on this occasion to the traditional teaching methods

MCE-1001:
The Internet and Foreign-Language Studies
Pierre Machu

This thesis is a qualitative study of the role of the Internet in Foreign-Language Studies, focussing in particular on the integration of the Internet into the Natural Approach to foreign-language learning and its implications for language-learning autonomy. The study is concerned with the role of the Internet in education, in other words teaching students how to teach Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) via the Internet to their future students. The research for this thesis was conducted primarily on the basis of a pilot programme carried out in a group of final year Bachelor of Education students in St. Patrick's College of Education, Drumcondra, Dublin . The principal aim of this project was to simultaneously develop three key skills in the participating students, namely their language, computer and pedagogical skills, all of which would be instrumental in implementing a Natural Approach to Foreign Language Studies, using the Internet.
This dissertation examines the use of computers in foreign-language learning and the attitude of teachers towards computers. It looks at the methodology of teaching using computers, in particular the role of Computer Assisted Language Learning and the Internet in promoting independent language learning. The changing role of the lecturer, in particular with regard to integrating technology into the language curriculum is studied, along with an analysis of communicative tools which can be beneficial for student-teacher interaction. The dissertation also assesses the overall impact of this project on the participating students' language, computer and pedagogical skills, and outlines the scope for further research in this area.