MCE Working Papers - 2002

MCE Working Papers for 2002

Implementing the Personal Software Process (PSP) with Undergraduate Students
M. F. Murphy

This paper describes an empirical case-study which used techniques and concepts from the Personal Software Process (PSP), developed by Watts Humphrey (1995), to teach software process improvement to under-graduate, computing students. The PSP claims to provide individual software developers with a structured and systematic way to improve the quality and predictability of the software they write (Humphrey, 1995). The objectives of this case study were twofold: First, to study the impact learning an adapted version of the PSP had on the estimating ability, the programming habits, and the quality of work produced by a group of PSP-trained students. Second, to compare the software development processes of this group with a control group of non-PSP trained students. A number of hypotheses were tested, dealing with four aspects of the PSP, namely: size estimation, time estimation, time management and software quality management. A post-course survey was also administered to the PSP-trained students. The results of the case study are described and discussed in this paper and recommendations are made for the future practice of the PSP.

The Design, Development and Evaluation of Online In-service Education for Primary School Teachers in Information and Communications Technology (I.C.T.)
Adrian O Connor and Fintan Costello

The aims of this research project were as follows:

The review of the literature written on this topic revealed that there is extensive online in-service education in I.C.T. available, but that it is mostly American based and that this type of in-service education in Ireland is, at present, limited to pilot projects. The factors that influence the effectiveness of online in-service education were discussed in the literature review and some of these factors were implemented when designing the pilot web site for this project.
In order to investigate the requirements for effective online in-service education for teachers in I.C.T. a pilot web site was developed. The web site was developed using the factors that influence effective online in-service education from the literature and the results of a postal questionnaire, which was sent to teachers in order to assess their views on online in-service education and to discover what content they would like to see on a web-based in-service site in I.C.T.
The results of the online questionnaire and the principles of effective online professional development were used to develop a more effective and comprehensive web site for in-service education for primary school teachers in I.C.T.
The research study illustrated that teachers see a role for the Internet in future in-service education in I.C.T., but that time, rewards and accreditation must be provided for teachers who want to use this medium of continuing education. Both the literature and the research findings suggest that there is a role for the Internet in the provision of I.C.T. in-service to primary school teachers. The following recommendations are also made in order to enhance the effectiveness of the online medium in providing I. C. T in-service education to primary school teachers:

Problems with Internet and Library Usage for Secondary School Children
Tom Nolan and Mark Humphrys

This research consisted of investigating seven hypotheses using the following components:

  1. Observation of forty-three secondary school children using the Internet and the library to complete five tasks.
  2. An interview was held with all the participants in the study that was audio taped and subsequently transcribed.
  3. An on-line form was constructed so that the students could nominate their favourite educational web sites for each class subject.
The participants were given five tasks and had to find the answers using two of the most common forms of information retrieval found in Irish schools, the Internet and the school library. Subsequently they were asked twenty questions about their opinions on aspects of the library and the Internet. Points of interest here included that the majority of participants felt that the Internet is faster, easier to use, and better overall than the library, even though it was proven not to be the case. It was also found that the participants nominated sites by domain name without actually investigating if the domain name had any reference to the subject in question.
The observation, interview and voting data was then analysed using SPSS to investigate the seven hypotheses. These findings were then reported, discussed and ideas for future study were recommended. Proposed technical and teaching solutions to problems uncovered in this research are also outlined.
The above findings have implications for search engine design, the curriculum of the Irish education system, and for teachers in how they use both the Internet and the library to their full potential.

An investigation into the potential of the use of multimedia development WebCT to enhance the understanding of Information Technology for students, within a traditional 3rd level lecturing environment
Olivia Lernihan

This dissertation examines the benefits of multimedia development WebCT, for third level full-time students as a support tool, in terms of its pedagogical benefits, it practical implementation and the design criteria used in its development. With the widespread availability of computers and the popularity of the Internet, educators have been quick to recognise the educational potential of using the communication tools of the computer to supplement their existing courses or offering full courses on-line. This has led to the development of countless Computer-Mediated Communication environment such as Webct, in a very short time thus revitalising teaching methods by allowing for the utilisation of more modern methods of communication.
The syllabus in principles of Information Technology was placed online using WebCT with visual test and images, online quizzes via the Internet. The students in the study completed post-test questionnaires and both groups completed exams during the study. The structure of dissertation is as follows: introduction, literature review, design and methodology, analysis, conclusion and findings, followed by relevant appendices. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to analyse the results of this research. Limitations to the study and possible future research possibilities were also considered.
The overriding conclusion of the research is that the provision of an online management course for third level students did not affect academic performance but may have affected the information sourcing behaviour of the students.

An Educational Enquiry into the use of Concept Mapping and Multimedia to Enhance the Understanding of Mathematics
Fionnuala Flanagan

This dissertation investigates the potential that concept mapping and the multimedia software Flash4.0 has for enhancing students' understanding of Mathematics. It focuses on developing the students problem-solving skills through use of concept mapping. The structuring of their solutions in a logical diagrammatic format through concept mapping will enable them to animate their Mathematical solutions through use of Flash4.0, thus creating a representation of their understanding of the Maths problem.
The participants in the study were a mixed gender class selected from Transition Year in the Irish second level education system. On the basis of the level that they took for their Junior Certificate Examination, Honours and Ordinary level groups were formed. Each group was ranked according to their Mathematical aptitude, identified from the results of Differential Aptitude Tests which measure: Numerical Ability, Abstract Reasoning, Mechanical Ability and Space Relations. They were then allocated into homogenous pairs, thus creating a collaborative learning environment.
An Action Research study was undertaken. Both groups took part in six sessions, presented over a three-week period, designed to develop, explore and examine the areas mentioned above, providing a more progressive methodology for the teaching of Mathematics. An evaluation of the study was formed based on the evidence gathered from: student journals, this practitioner's diary, video and audio tapes, questionnaires, learning styles tests, concept maps, and animations created in Flash4.0. Both groups were pre- and post-tested using a Mathematics question and those sections from the Differential Aptitude Tests that were mentioned above. The results showed that this methodology created an environment that enabled the students to develop positive attitudes towards Mathematics. Concept mapping and the use of multimedia motivated them to become active participants in their own learning process, increased their confidence in the problem-solving cycle, and facilitated the perception of Mathematics through their 'eyes'. The findings show that both the Honours and Ordinary level students improved in Abstract and Mechanical reasoning, and Space relations as a result of this enquiry. However the degree of improvement achieved by the Ordinary level students compared to the Honours students was significant. This methodology enhanced the student's enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of Mathematics.

Gender Issues in the Use of Computers in Third Class
Michael McKenzie

The use of computers in schools as a learning aid has been encouraged in recent years. Despite the recent training opportunities made available for teachers in this area, most find themselves in a situation where they have access to a computer in their classroom, with little or no understanding of how it should be used. In St. Fiachra's Senior National School, Beaumont, the children use the computers in mixed pair groups on a rote basis. They work on educational software selected by the class teacher, and this involves solving a series of problems, puzzles etc.
This study set about examining the interaction that takes place between the students while working in their groups. It also looked at the children's current attitudes to computers. Their interaction was monitored by direct observation in a simulated environment, matching that of the children's normal computer environment in school. Their attitudes were ascertained by means of a questionnaire. Results were analysed using the statistical software package SPSS.
The research was conducted with fifteen boys and fifteen girls in third class in St. Fiachra's School. These children were aged nine or ten years old. The results showed that boys dominated the use of the computer, while girls were involved in the more administrative tasks. Also, while girls and boys attitudes to computers in general were similar, a clear difference was outlined in their opinions of the importance of computers in their lives. The boys felt that computers were more important to them than girls did for things like; getting a good job; as a source of information etc.
The results indicate that even at this early age, the girls are being pushed to the sidelines when using computers. Their opinions are already reflecting those of their older sisters; namely that they recognise the importance of computers, but are not as passionate as their male counterparts.
On the basis of these findings it may be suggested that further research be done in order to establish when the division in boys and girls opinions occur, and the reasons behind it. Further research on children's interaction using the computer could outline ways in which we can involve girls more, and hence improve their opinions of computers.

An Educational Enquiry into the potential use of an Online Course Management System to support learning in an all girl's second level science class
Christopher Garvey

This study investigates the potential of an online course management system, used as an optional supplement to traditional classroom teaching and learning, to enhance the educational experience of second level chemistry students in an all girl's school.
Twenty Transition Year students participated in the study that stretched over a period of fifteen weeks, with several breaks from class for the students in that period. The students were of mixed ability and were encouraged to, as well as given ample opportunity to, use the range of features and tools that such a system brings to the sphere of education.
An evaluation of the study was made from evidence gathered through a personal diary, a usability test, student questionnaires, student interviews, a previously published examination question and student work.
The integration of the course management system, to run parallel to the traditional classroom delivery of education, enhanced the educational experience of the young students and increased the appeal of the subject for them. There were no major usability issues for the students with the system. The various features of the system, and their educational potential were realised by the students, especially the potential to expand the learning community. The system successfully mediated, in part, a link-up to a third level institution thereby bringing expertise and new pedagogical approaches into the classroom.

Are Students Who Use Data Logging in Leaving Certificate Practical Work at any Disadvantage in Drawing Graphs Manually?
Anne Marie Mee

The purpose of this research was to investigate if students who use data logging as a tool in Leaving Certificate Physics practical work would be at a disadvantage when drawing graphs manually. The ability of the students to manually draw graphs and to predict graph shapes was tested before and after the research period. The affect of using data logging equipment on the students' perception of Physics practical work was also investigated.
Two fifth year Leaving Certificate Physics classes, in an all girls secondary school, taught by the same teacher, were selected. These were two classes which had been pre-defined by school management and were therefore not chosen randomly. One of the classes - the experimental class - carried out Physics laboratory experiments using data logging equipment. Data logging equipment collects data and produces graphs electronically, using software tools. The other class - the control class - carried out similar experiments, but used 'traditional' laboratory apparatus. The research took place during nine laboratory Sessions, each of 80 minutes duration. Both classes were given identical questionnaires and tests before and after carrying out the laboratory experiments.
The results of this study found that before the research period there were no significant differences between the classes with regard to their perceptions of Physics practical work and their ability to predict graph shapes, but the control class was significantly better than the experimental class at drawing graphs manually. It was found after the research period, that both classes improved significantly at predicting graph shapes; that there was no longer any significant difference between the classes with regard to their ability to draw graphs manually - the mean scores of the experimental class improved significantly, while there was no significant change in the mean scores of the control class. It was also found that there were significant changes in the experimental class with regard to some of their perceptions of Physics practical work.
There is no evidence from this study to suggest that students who use data logging in Leaving Certificate Physics practical work are at a disadvantage in drawing graphs manually. The findings suggest that the use of data logging could actually improve this skill.

A Study Of Individual Learning Styles And Educational Multimedia Preferences
Denice Byrne and Claus Pahl

This paper details an experimental investigation into relationships between Individual Learning Styles and Online Multimedia learning resources. The specific conditions of the experiment placed the online educational multimedia into an online learning environment called WebCT. The experiment's sample group used the online resource in a self-directed and self-paced way. Learning styles were identified using a VARK questionnaire and an Index of Learning Styles (ILS) questionnaire.
The methods used for the process-included design, production and sourcing of suitable course material, which was then integrated into the WebCT structure. Data was collected pre and post treatment utilising online and paper questionnaires, performance assessment tests and WebCT system logs. The software application Statistical Analysis for Social Sciences (SPSS) was used to log, transform and analyse the qualitative data.
Analysis of the data determined that students will prefer learning with some types of online multimedia better than others, depending on their individual learning style as identified by the VARK questionnaire but not the ILS questionnaire. These probabilities were tested to a significance level of 95%.