Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Coursework Support System for Offering Challenges and Assistance by Analyzing Students' Web Portfolios

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Coursework Support System for Offering Challenges and Assistance by Analyzing Students' Web Portfolios

Article excerpt


Coursework is a significant learning activity to supplement classroom instruction (Cosden, Morrison, Albanese, & Macias, 2001). In conventional coursework activity, the teacher first assigns several exercises to all students. The students then do the exercises and hand them in. Finally, the teacher comments on each student's work and credits each student with a grade. In the process, students can construct knowledge by reading textbooks, discussing topics with peers, and making inquires through online resources (Cooper & Valentine, 2001; Epstein & Van Voorhis, 2001). A teacher can also evaluate the learning performance of students and understand their learning status based on the quality of their coursework.

However, the teacher assigns the same exercises to a diverse group of students who have varying learning statuses. Excellent students may feel that the exercises are too easy to teach them anything, while below-average students may feel that the exercises are too hard to allow them to learn (Corno, 2000). Additionally, learning aids, such as libraries and capable classroom peers, are located in different places. Students generally have difficulty receiving these aids to complete their exercises after class (Glazer & Williams, 2001). In these situations, students often fail to finish their coursework, or, occasionally, plagiarize.

Recently, some online assignment systems have been designed to support students and teachers in a conventional coursework activity. For instance, some systems provide assistance for teachers and students to manage the process of the conventional coursework activities, such as automatic assignment submission, assessment, and feedback (Collis, De Boer, & Slotman, 2001; Dawson-Howe, 1996; Lee & Heyworth, 2000; Saikkonen, Malmi, & Korhonen, 2001). The systems can help teachers manage the process of an assignment, and so reduce teachers' workloads. However, they do not provide support for the assigning of appropriate exercises for each student or for students' completion of these assigned exercises in the coursework activity.

Some systems provide personal tutoring that assigns adaptive questions for students and then guides students of varied abilities to correct their own assignment errors (Lilley, Barker, & Britton, 2004; Murray & Arroyo, 2002; Syang & Dale, 1993). These systems usually are applied in the Computerized Adaptive Test (CAT) domain to select the most appropriate questions based on Item Response Theory (IRT) (Lord, 1980; Rogers, Swaminathan, & Hambleton, 1991). However, in order to achieve reliable results, these systems require substantial interaction between a user and the system. Additionally, IRT is most suited to multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions and is less effective for open-ended questions, like programming exercises that need students to write a program to solve a problem (e.g., sum the odd integers between 1 and 99).

This study develops a Web Coursework Support System (WCSS), which is designed for supporting students who are learning the Java programming language in the coursework activity. It is composed of three subsystems: a Personalized Assignment Dispatching System (PADS), an e-dictionary system, and a peer recommendation system. The design of WCSS is based on the work of Vygotsky, who proposed Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Tharp and Gallimore (1988) proposed a four-stage ZPD model. In their model, ZPD is created when assistance is offered by more capable others or by the self-guidance. After learners progress through the ZPD, the skills and knowledge used within ZPD are internalized and fully developed. …

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