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Freedom of Choice as Motivational Factor for Active Learning

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Freedom of Choice as Motivational Factor for Active Learning Atanas Radenski Chapman University Orange, CA 92869, USA [email protected] Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better ~ Albert Camus ABSTRACT Freedom to choose what, when, and how to contribute in a learning process can motivate students to actively engage and achieve more in their studies. However, freedom of choice complicates course management and may deter instructors from allowing such freedom. Our approach is to utilize existing functionality of course management systems such as Moodle to automatically facilitate and coordinate free student choices and provide much needed relief for instructors at the same time. Using Moodle we have developed novel digital study packs that blend freedom of choice with guidance and control. Our survey shows that assisted freedom of choice is ranked highest in 51% of student responses – in contrast to unlimited choice at 28% or no choice at all at 21%. Experience reported in this paper may be beneficial for instructors who would like to expand their courses with new motivational learning techniques. Categories and Subject Descriptors K.3.2 [Computers & Education]: Computer and Information Science Education - computer science education, curriculum; Computer Uses in Education - distance learning General Terms Human Factors, Languages Keywords Active learning, programming languages, CS1/2, study pack, Moodle, compiler construction, Java, Python, labs, projects 1. RATIONALE The dot-com bubble burst in years 2000-2002 was followed by a decline of IT employment and by a corresponding decline of CS/CE enrollment in the US and Canada. The IT employment numbers peaked in 2002, declined in 2003, then increased steadily since 2003 to grow 6.9% higher in 2007 than in 2001 [15]. Conversely, the number of newly declared CS/CE undergraduate majors peaked in 2000 and then declined 46% between 2002 and 2005 alone, according to the authoritative Taulbee Surveys1 [7]. A slight enrollment increase in 2006 was followed by another worrisome decrease in 2007. These employment and enrollment data are shown in Figure 1. 310032003300340035003600370038002000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007051015202530IT employment (left scale) New CS/CE majors (right scale)Trendline: IT employment Trendline: New CS majors Figure 1. IT employment [15] and newly declared undergraduate CS/CE majors [7], in thousands. The steady IT employment growth has not stimulated reciprocal growth in CS enrollment yet, as some have expected. It is more important than ever to seek ways beyond job market factors to improve CS enrollment. The need to stimulate and increase interest in CS has been addressed from various perspectives, some of which are outlined in the following list. Innovative pedagogy. Educators develop pedagogical approaches intended to boost student interest, motivation, and satisfaction, such as active learning [4, 9, 12, 17, and 18], team-based learning [8, 11, and 12], and cooperative learning [25]. Innovative course development. Educators develop courses that involve game development, virtual reality, multimedia, robotics, and the web [1, 3, and 8]; inter-disciplinary courses [10]; introductory courses that make programming easier to master [18]; introductory courses or course modules that do not involve programming at all [6]; course clusters that provide multiple-entry points in computer-related majors [16] - and many others. Use of emerging information technologies. Educators free students to learn independently of time and location by means of course management systems (CMS) such as Moodle [18], by means of Web-based tools [9], and/or by means of mobile computing and communication devices, such as mobile phones and MP3 players [12]. Educators experiment with promising pedagogical uses of 1 Survey data are on undergraduate enrollment from Ph.D.-granting departments of computer science (CS) and computer engineering (CE) in the US and Canada. "© ACM, 2009. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of ACM for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Proc. ITiCSE '09, ACM, New York, NY, 21-25. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1562877.1562891.tablets [4 and 20] to support active learning and harness the growing popularity of social networks [3] to engage students in the learning process. Addressing the gender gap. Educators investigate factors for the declining interest of women in IT careers [13] and specifically in CS [23]. CS educators experiment with practical methods to boost women’s interest in CS [22]. Advertising and recruitment. Administrators and faculty offer practical methods to advertise and recruit among future students and students who are already on campus [24]. Scholars develop theoretical models to explain and predict student motivation and develop corresponding recruitment strategies [2]. The above approaches are usually combined rather than used in isolation. For example, tablet PCs are employed in active learning [4 and 20] and gender issues are addressed by multimedia-rich pedagogy [19]. Our general goal is to stimulate student interest, motivation, and satisfaction through (1) lab-based and project-based course development to promote (2) active learning pedagogy supported by (3) emerging information technologies such as the Moodle CMS. Similarly to others [4 and 9], we aim to achieve this goal through a combination of emerging information technologies, pedagogy, and course development. Our specific choices are justified as follows. - In the realm of emerging information technologies, we focus on Moodle because it is an open source CMS that is increasingly popular with educational establishments - currently (January 2009) there are over 47,000 registered Moodle sites [14] in 199 countries with nearly 2.5 million courses with about 25 million students. - In the realm of innovative pedagogy, we focus on active learning because of its increasing recognition as a method to boost student involvement and interest. - In the realm of innovative course development, we focus (1) on a lab-based approach because it has been recognized to be beneficial at the introductory CS1/2 level and (2) on a project-based approach because it is well known to be productive at the advanced undergraduate level. Freedom to choose what, when, and how to contribute in a learning process can motivate students to actively


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