Article Critique for a case study on the use of Blended Learning to encourage Computer Science students to study

Article Citation

Perez-Marin, D., & Pascual-Nieto, I. (2012). A Case Study on the Use of Blended Learning to Encourage Computer Science Students to Study. Journal Of Science Education And Technology, 21(1), 74-82. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1007/s10956-011-9283-6.

Article Summary

This article reports on the findings of a study about the effectiveness of Blended Learning in encouraging Computer Science students to study the concepts covered in the course. According to the authors, Computer Science students tend to devote less time in studying concepts after class; hence, the study was carried out to determine if Blended Learning improved students’ studying habits after class and if it improved the students’ performance in the exams. The study also focused on students’ experiences and perceptions about Blended Learning setting as determined from their comments shared with their instructors and from voluntary, anonymous satisfaction questionnaire.

The study was conducted with 131 second-year Spanish Computer Science university students taking a mandatory course in Operating Systems from February to June 2008. The course involved computer programming exercises and theoretical concepts in Operating Systems. 131 students were distributed into 8 groups and each group had a different schedule for in-class session. Out of 131 students in this study, 102 were male students while 29 were female students. Also, 27 students out of 131 students had outstanding scores and they were put into a special group of gifted students.

In this Blended Learning setting, students attended traditional, face-to-face sessions in the laboratory for 3 months where they solved practical exercises. In the last in-class session (at the beginning of May), students voluntarily participated in the experiment by completing a pre-test with five multiple-choice questions related to the lesson covered in the class. After the pre-test, students were divided randomly into two groups – control group and test group – to study the same lesson for 1 hour. Students in the control group studied with printed documentation only while the students in the test group studied with the computer application called Willow which is a free-text scoring computer application for conceptual formative assessment and it provides immediate feedback to questions answered by students (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012). Students’ reactions while studying in the last hour were also observed by the same researcher in all 8 in-class sessions. After 1 hour, all students completed post-test and satisfaction questionnaire. Finally, from this last session until the final exam in June, students were allowed to study course concepts using Willow or printed documentation.

The results of this study were evaluated based on direct observations of students’ reactions in class, students’ performance in pre-test and post-test, results of satisfaction questionnaire, and the frequency of study with Willow or with printed documentation from the last class until the final exam in June.

From in-class pre-test and post-test results, there was an increase in post-test score for students who used computers to study for the test. However, those differences were not statistically significant; hence, the goal of the experiment was not show that students will achieve higher scores after 1 hour of studying but the goal was to show that “it is necessary to study more before the exam and during several weeks” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.78). Moreover, there were no significant differences between the group of gifted students and the rest of the students. Students in the control group also complained about using printed documentation when studying for the test while the students in the test group were fully engaged when studying with a computer.

The results of the study as determined from the satisfaction questionnaire showed that 87% of the 131 students believed that “the computer is a good complement for conceptual study” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.79). Moreover, 65% of the 131 students preferred to study with the computer and “81% of the 131 students stated that they intended to study with the computer instead of using the printed documentation” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.79). Finally, only 12 students provided negative comments but all of these comments were regarding Willow.

When students were allowed to choose studying for the final exam using a computer or a printed documentation, 99% of the students asked for a Willow account in order to study online and only 1 student requested printed documentation. However, this student also requested a Willow account. Also, unlike traditional studying using printed documentation where students procrastinated their studying until few days before the exam, students who used Willow started their studying a month before the exam and this frequency trend was observed from the registration data available in Willow.

The findings of this study showed the benefits of using Blended Learning for computer science students because it encouraged the students to study after the class. Blended Learning is also a solution to students who enjoy studying the course concepts on the computer than reading the printed materials because it ensures “higher levels of engagement and higher frequency of study” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.80). The researchers also found all the results to be the same for average students and outstanding students in the special group.

Finally, the authors propose that further research studies will be conducted to determine how “Blended Learning setting can be adapted to other domains to help other students to develop some study skills and avoid procrastination” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2012, p.81). The authors also propose conducting the same research study with other free-text scoring applications and determine their effect on the Blended Learning setting.

Article Critique

Overall, I found the research study described in this article and its results to be valid and relevant to Blended Learning. I also feel that the research article is well written because the authors’ conclusions and further research work are aligned with the findings presented in the literature review. The other strength of this article is its ability in presenting the results of the research study statistically in a table and bar graphs in order to clearly show major trends and data differences.

However, this research study has the potential to increase the reliability of its results and establish a stronger support for its conclusion by increasing the sample size. Sample size can be increased by carrying out the same experiment over a number of years; thus, this would gather more qualitative data from the respondents. Alternatively, the sample size can be increased by carrying out the same experiment with other similar Computer Science courses.

I also feel that since requesting of paper documentation was done in a classroom setting, there may have been a peer pressure involved which would have impacted other students’ decision and preference to study with paper documentation. If each student shared their preference privately with the researcher outside the classroom environment, then this may have produced different results of the experiment.

Moreover, the researchers found out that the frequency of studying using Willow increased a month before the final; hence, this showed that students started to study for their exam earlier and they did not procrastinate their studying when using Willow. However, the researchers did not have a baseline to compare their results. I feel that the researchers should have based their conclusion after comparing their results with the frequency of studying (before exam) in the traditional, face-to-face setting (non-blended setting).

I agree with authors’ suggestions about conducting the same experiment with other courses in order to determine if Blended Learning is beneficial to students majoring in other fields not related to Computer Science. I would also explore further and determine the effect of incorporating other software which enables students to have online discussion with their peers and instructor about concepts and programming assignments related to the course. In order to do this, I would reduce the time spent in face-to-face lectures and allocate that time for online discussion. This approach will indicate if students were able to learn more through online discussion which is available to them at any time.

Personal Reflection

I personally found this article interesting because of my background and experiences in Information Technology. Hence, this article is quite relevant to my experiences when I took Computer Science and Systems Engineering courses at the university because I spent a lot of time in lectures and in completing laboratory assignments but I lacked enough time to study and assess the theoretical concepts of the course. Most times, laboratory assignments did not correlate well with conceptual knowledge covered in the courses. Thus, having a Blended Learning setting where time spent in lectures is well balanced with online studying would benefit students – like myself – in developing their study skills and would make learning more enjoyable.

This article provides a very good solution to the issues most Computer Science students are encountering by showing how beneficial Blended Learning can be for these students who are mostly busy working on their assignments in the laboratory that they end up spending less time to study theoretical concepts after class. Since any computer science course requires high utilization of computers and most of these students are well adapted to using computers, having a balance between face-to-face computer laboratory sessions and online learning to study course concepts is a better approach in improving the learning experience of  Computer Science students. If I were to develop a Computer Science course using Blended Learning, I would use the same balanced approach with some minor modifications. I would also use similar software as Willow, online quizzes and games for online self assessment and studying. Additionally, I would use online application which would be a combination of D2L and online discussion forum where students would be able to access all course lessons, handouts, and communicate with their peers and instructor about course assignments and participate in online discussion moderated by the instructor. Consequently, having online discussion forums would reduce face-to-face instructions in order to achieve the balanced approach in Blended Learning.

References

Perez-Marin, D., & Pascual-Nieto, I. (2012). A Case Study on the Use of Blended Learning to Encourage Computer Science Students to Study. Journal Of Science Education And Technology, 21(1), 74-82. Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/10.1007/s10956-011-9283-6.

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