Towards a student-centric approach in teaching object-oriented design and data management

Created by mens at March 20, 2012.

Since this year, a new course on "object-oriented design and data management" is taught, using a student-centric teaching approach.

Since this year, a new undergraduate course on “object-oriented design and data management” has been created and is being taught to a heterogeneous audience of 2nd year bachelors in engineering, in computer science, complemented with a some 2nd year bachelors in mathematics and management, as well as a few master students in linguistics. All students previously followed at least two basic introductory programming courses.

Following the Ecole Polytechnique de Louvain’s long-standing tradition in active and problem-based learning, a student-centred pedagogical approach was adopted for this course as well. The course is organized around a central problem to be solved by the students in groups of 5: modelling and designing an Android application and the database system it uses.

The chosen case is a ‘mobile city guide’ which can guide a visitor to the important points of interest of a city and provide information on those points according to the user’s age, language and interests. Such a case motivates the students who are typically eager to learn about novel technology related to mobile applications and smart devices. But in fact the case mainly serves as an enabler for the students to acquire competences in modeling, managing and using databases and in analyzing, designing object-oriented programs.

The case study is divided in three separate phases: one on information modeling, one on object-oriented analysis and design, and a final implementation phase. In each phase, the students work in group to acquire the necessary competences and apply them to the case.

The course adopts Piaget’s principle of constructivism where learning is an active process in which students construct new ideas and concepts based upon their current and past knowledge. The course objectives are clearly presented to the students in a student-centric way as learning objectives according to Bloom’s taxonomy.

To help them in their learning process and avoid them to reinvent the wheel, the most important concepts are briefly explained in more traditional lectures, but for more details the students need to consult the selected reference material (books, articles, websites and tools). In addition to that, there are weekly tutored group sessions, which are not traditional exercise sessions where the students apply the theory on small examples only. Instead, during these sessions the students put their newly and previously acquired skills to practice on the concrete problem case, but every time from a different angle, while leaving sufficient room for creativity.

The tutor is not a teacher but a facilitator. He doesn’t tell the students how to achieve their goal, neither does he answer directly to their questions. Instead he puts things into question, so as to make students reconsider some choices they made regarding the work they need to realize, or regarding the skills or knowledge needed to reach that goal. Only a few sessions are a bit more guided, to avoid students to reinvent the wheel.

Working in group allows the students to exchange their knowledge, help each other and confront their ideas about the work to be realized. This stimulates their cognitive and metacognitive knowledge because it forces them to explain, argument and defend their way of working, which is primordial in a constructivist pedagogical approach.

A significant part of the evaluation is based on the result the students produce as a group, as well as on how they are able to defend this work and how they put into practice the different concepts of the course to realize this work. This group evaluation is complemented with an individual exam, where the students are again given a small problem that they need to resolve with the skills they have acquired throughout the course.

Currently, the course is still ongoing but at the end of the course we plan to conduct a course evaluation among the students who are currently following the course, with a special focus on the student-centric pedagogies and their perceived (dis)advantages by the students.

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