Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Educationally Critical Characteristics of Deep Approaches to Learning about the Concept of an Information System

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Educationally Critical Characteristics of Deep Approaches to Learning about the Concept of an Information System

Article excerpt

Introduction

In some educational disciplines studies have investigated how best to teach and learn key concepts (for example, mathematics--Crawford, Gordon, Nicholas, & Prosser, 1994, 1998; biology--Hazel, Prosser & Trigwell, 1996, 2002; physics--Prosser & Millar, 1989). A consistent finding has been that only certain learning approaches lead to the development of a deep understanding. These learning approaches have been found to have educationally critical characteristics that are similar in general but different in detail for each particular concept (Booth, 1997; Marton & Booth, 1996; McCune & Entwistle, 2000). Knowledge about the detail would seem vital to improving teaching and learning about a particular concept. Learning tasks can then be designed that encourage and favor the use of appropriate learning approaches.

A key concept in the IS discipline is the concept of an information system (IS). It seems logical that undergraduate IS students should be exploring the nature of an IS in depth with the aim of developing a deep understanding. To achieve this deep understanding the research in other disciplines suggests that IS students should be using learning approaches with certain educationally critical characteristics that are specific to learning about the concept of an IS. Yet, the detail of these educationally critical characteristics has not appeared previously in the IS education research literature. This would seem to be a significant impediment to ensuring the quality of IS students' learning outcomes.

This paper reports one section of a large empirical study of IS undergraduate students' learning experiences. The section investigated the educationally critical characteristics of learning approaches likely to lead to the development of a deep understanding of the concept of an IS. The findings have significant implications for IS undergraduate education.

Background

One of the most powerful contributions to improving the quality of students' learning outcomes in higher education has been made by the student learning research (Biggs, 1999). This research has investigated students' and teachers' perceptions of their own experiences of learning environments. A research approach frequently used in the student learning research has been phenomenography--a qualitative approach that attempts to describe broad variation in small groups of peoples' experiences of a phenomenon in the world (see Marton & Booth, 1997 for more detail). The broad variation has been described in the form of an outcome space of a limited number of critically different but hierarchically related categories of description of a phenomenon. Phenomenography has been especially useful in the study of student learning. The categories of description higher in a hierarchy have been shown logically to be associated with better quality learning outcomes. The differences between categories of description have proven to be educationally critical ones. Analyzing these critical differences has provided insights into how teaching and learning can be structured to bring about high quality learning (Cope, 2000a; Marton & Booth, 1997).

Two phenomena studied extensively in the student learning research using phenomenographic research approaches have been level of understanding of key disciplinary concepts and approach to learning. As an example of the consistent findings, the study of students' experiences of learning about the concept of an IS that underlies the empirical study reported later in this paper will be used (Cope, 2000a). One hundred and twelve students learning about IS for a year in the middle of an undergraduate computing degree were involved in data collection through in-depth interviews and questionnaires. The data collection instruments explored students' levels of understanding of the concept of an IS and approaches to learning about IS. All quotes on the transcribed interviews and questionnaires were pooled and analyzed using phenomenographic techniques (for detail of these techniques see Booth, 1997, p. …

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