Article Review #3

A Case Study on the Use of Blended Learning to Encourage Computer Science Students to Study – Pérez-Marín & Pascual-Nieto, 2012

Honestly, I partially chose this article because the title made me laugh: “A Case Study on the Use of Blended Learning to Encourage Computer Science Students to Study.” The researchers get right to business finding ways to get CS students to engage with the material after class. Apparently, the study habits of CS students are so notoriously bad that the authors didn’t feel the need to go into the claim that their entire study rests on. While I would have liked to see more than one article back up their assertion, it was clear that they saw a trend in their computer science department and wanted to tackle it. I had already mentally committed to this article before I realized that they were gathering data from a class held in the 2007-2008 school year. The paper itself was published in 2012, so I thought we were dealing with more recent applications of blended learning. Still, there may be a valid takeaway.

To test the efficacy of blended learning study tools for university CS students, researchers took 131 students in the second-year course “Operating Systems” and let half of them use a computer program to study and the other half (control group) received a print version of the study content. The online study program, “Willow,” was developed by the researchers. Students were able to type in their response, have it compared against pre-loaded answers from the instructor, and then were given immediate feedback (Figure 1). Data was collected through pre/post assessments, and a satisfaction questionnaire. The experiment took place near the end of the semester and (weirdly) lasted as long as a one hour study session bookended by the assessments. All students were then allowed to use their study tool of choice for the month leading up to the final exam at which time they took the satisfaction survey.

Figure 1 – Screenshot of Willow

While the results showed that the computer study group had a higher positive difference between their pre/post assessment scores 75% of the time, it was by a margin that was not statistically significant (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2011, p.78). The authors weren’t surprised by this finding, as their actual goal was to show that students must study for an exam over the course of several weeks. I struggle to understand why they set up this portion of the experiment this way if they were actually looking to prove an idea that required an extended window of time for data collection. Once the initial study session was over and students were able to choose their study tool, 99% of students used a Willow account and researchers saw that students were using the program regularly in the weeks leading up to the exam (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2011, p.80). But then they compare the increased studying anecdotally to the procrastination observed in the past when traditional paper study guides were used; they did not have data to back this up.

The results of the satisfaction questionnaire were unsurprising, especially considering all of the subjects were in the computer science program. They overwhelming felt that using a computer to study was good, a positive complement to their classwork, and their preferred method of study for the future. Researchers also took into consideration observable satisfaction during the 1 hour long study session, which led to my second laugh in this article, “The first reaction observed is that students assigned to the control group complained more than students assigned to the test group” (Perez-Marin & Pascual-Nieto, 2011, p.76). Computer science students complaining about not getting to use computers: typical.

While I can’t say that this article gave me ideas for my classroom, or helped me make new connections, it’s always good to know what came before you. Articles like this are like being visited by the ghost of technology past. If you don’t understand what the field used to look like then you won’t fully appreciate how far we’ve come in just a decade. Today, I wouldn’t even think to hand my CS students paper study guides, but clearly that used to be the norm. Blended learning is something that is no longer just a study tool but an active player in daily curriculum. This article may lack the appropriate data to show a positive effect on student scores over time, but their reasoning behind using blended learning tools are solid and similar to our reasons today (student control, flexibility, personalization). Unfortunately, even with the normalization of blended learning tools, it’s been my experience that CS students still slack on the studying.

References

Pérez-Marín, D., & Pascual-Nieto, I. (2012). A case study on the use of blended learning to encourage computer science students to study. Journal of Science Education and Technology,21(1), 74-82. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41413286

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