Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Improving Teaching and Learning in an Information Systems Subject: A Work in Progress

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Improving Teaching and Learning in an Information Systems Subject: A Work in Progress

Article excerpt


This paper reports on an ongoing action research project that uses current educational theory and practice to improve the teaching and learning outcomes in an information systems development subject. This subject is taken by students in the second year of a three year Bachelor of Information Technology. The subject is taught in a small group teaching mode using experiential learning activities in an environment designed to encourage a deep approach to learning.

Students' approaches to learning can be broadly categorized as either surface or deep (Ramsden, 1992). Deep learning approaches focus on seeking the meaning of the subject content as a cohesive whole in contrast to surface learning approaches which focus on acquiring the knowledge associated with isolated facts. A consistent finding of many studies is that only deep approaches are likely to lead to conceptually significant learning (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999).

The teaching method in this subject incorporates the following features to encourage students to take a deep approach to their learning:

* setting explicit and clear goals for student learning on a weekly basis,

* assessment tasks that require a deep approach to learning,

* activities that teach students how to learn,

* experiential learning activities,

* exposure to variation through making other students' ideas available.

The full details of this approach are reported in Cope and Staehr (2005).

The intervention described in this paper built on the existing approach described above. The overall aim was to extend the learning experience to include the following aspects described by Moore, O'Rourke & Powell (2007, p. 1), where students "develop professional and personal skills as well as attributes ranging from teamwork and leadership skills to problem solving and information literacy. They can also develop attitudes such as acceptance of responsibility for their own learning and actions." Specifically, it was hoped that the implementation of teamwork in the subject would

* Develop skills valued in the work place (e.g. problem solving, planning, managing projects and meetings, communication skills, leadership skills, time management, information literacy, presentation and organizational skills)

* Establish student learning communities (i.e. peer learning)

* Increase student engagement in the subject.

These are all part of a set of skills that assist students to become lifelong learners. The aim was to move students from dependence (on the lecturer) towards independence and interdependence in learning (Boud, 2001). An important component of the intervention was its evaluation which is discussed in the Method section of the paper.

The educational benefits of teamwork, peer learning, and student engagement are well documented in the education literature (e.g. Boud, Cohen, & Sampson, 2001a; Harper & Quaye, 2009; Wells, 2002)). In the workplace few IT professionals work in isolation but are more likely to work in a project team environment. The ACM/IEEE model curricula for computer science and information technology (Cassel et al., 2008; Lunt et al., 2008), and the draft ACM/IS model curricula for information systems (Topi et al., 2009), all acknowledge teamwork skills as an important graduate attribute. There is also evidence that not only IT employers but employers in general value teamwork skills (Employability skills, 2002; Fernandez-Sanz, 2009; Hager & Holland, 2006). Therefore, the inclusion of a teamwork component in an information systems development subject is well justified.

Most previously reported research on teamwork in computer science and information systems subjects (e.g. Bielikova & Navrat, 2005; Wells, 2002) involves students developing a software product in teams in a capstone subject that attempts to simulate the team environment in the IT industry. …

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