"The Data Shuffle": Using Playing Cards to Illustrate Data Management Concepts to a Broad Audience

By Agogo, David; Anderson, Jesse | Journal of Information Systems Education, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

"The Data Shuffle": Using Playing Cards to Illustrate Data Management Concepts to a Broad Audience


Agogo, David, Anderson, Jesse, Journal of Information Systems Education


1. INTRODUCTION

Due to the abstract nature of data management concepts and related subjects, teaching these concepts to an audience with only basic technical knowledge requires careful planning and technique. Early generations of digital information storage were skeuomorphic (i.e., modeled against physical forms of storing information), making them easier to understand. For instance, hierarchical file storage was consistent with physical file drawers (Harrison, 2015). However, modern databases are highly abstract, employing advanced relational concepts and more complicated data structures designed to meet the use cases and realities with which today's businesses must contend. Such use cases include storing and analyzing big data and managing streaming data from social media and connected devices. Instructors in the field of information systems (IS) must deal with this challenge and figure out innovative ways to pass along course content while keeping students engaged and interested. In this paper, one such approach to teaching important concepts from this knowledge area is introduced.

At the heart of this approach is an Experiential Learning Activity (ELA) which leverages the notion of reverses-keuomorphism (when "digital-things" or ideas are re-applied to "physical things" (Scott, 2012)). The physical objects used in this ELA are a regular deck of playing cards. The goal of this ELA is to improve learners' understanding and retention of important data management concepts and make the teaching of these concepts more effective. By using playing cards, this exercise reuses a tool with which participants are likely to be familiar. This paper is important and relevant because it equips IS instructors with a useful, effective, and fun exercise that they can deploy immediately in the classroom. Learners also stand to benefit, as the use of this exercise is likely to encourage students' further engagement with more advanced concepts. At the very least, this ELA is shown to make the knowledge and understanding of data concepts more accessible to a wider audience, including those who are less technically inclined.

In the following section, a brief review of the use of ELAs to teach important data and programming concepts is provided. Thereafter, the exercise is introduced in detail. Discussion of the exercise will cover planning for the activity, conducting the activity in a classroom setting, and suggested guidelines for debriefing. Finally, the paper presents empirical evidence that this approach is effective and concludes with a discussion of the empirical findings and participant experiences.

2. LITERATURE REVIEW

2.1 Using Experiential Learning Activities to Teach Concepts

Experiential learning activities are activities that facilitate the creation of knowledge through the transformative effect of experience (Kolb, 1984). Instead of the traditional practice where students passively sit through lectures or read text, "the learner is directly in touch with the realities being studied ... rather than merely thinking about the encounter or only considering the possibility of doing something with [the knowledge obtained]" (Keeton and Tate, 1978, p.2 in Kolb, 1984). ELAs have been used in a wide variety of fields, especially when practical applications are important (e.g., in business or design) and when the concepts are particularly difficult to master. In the field of IS, ELAs have been used to teach design thinking (Gaskin and Berente, 2011) and IT consulting (Heim et al., 2005), among other concepts. These activities range from custom-made simulation environments to more flexible and ad-hoc thought exercises using the most basic of tools. However, the embeddedness of technology in today's classroom and the presence of web 2.0 technologies tend to spur and support a range of ELAs (Huang and Behara, 2007).

A key challenge with the design and delivery of ELAs is the amount of work that goes into planning and crafting a meaningful ELA experience for learners. …

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