High levels of attrition rates in computer science higher education (Beaubouef and Mason, 2005) and an ever increasing demand for IT professionals across Europe (Van Heur, 2016) and further afield (Oliver et al, 2015) is putting great pressure on Higher Education Institutes to deliver good quality IT graduates. Enrolment numbers in computer science programmes is also showing a downward trend (HESA, 2014). More alarmingly research suggests that current low pass rates in programming subjects might be having a decremental effect on computer science student enrolment and retention (Watson and Li, 2014). This action research study will present a new platform to allow HE institutes to deliver a high quality learning experience in software development and programming courses. This study relies on the recent advances in open source streaming technology and its growth to create a virtual synchronous classroom platform.
Current research into the design, development and delivery of webinars, live e-learning or live synchronous streaming platforms in HE is still in it’s infancy, mostly due to the technology constraints. Several terms have been coined in order to identify this recent pedagogy methodology. Synchronous virtual classrooms (Martin et al, 2012), live virtual classroom (Vu and Fadde, 2013), multi-assess learning (Irvine et al, 2013) or blended synchronous learning (Bower et al, 2015) are used collectively to describe real time communication between the tutor and learners. They simultaneously interact with each other using a supported streaming software and hardware solution to collaborate in presentations, seminars or lectures. Participation in the learning event is synchronous, and more importantly not bound by the traditional restraints as with real-time on-campus lectures, such as location and format. It is now possible that a student’s presence and activity during a scheduled real-time learning event is not restricted to being within a physical space/geography, leaving the learner to decide on whether to attend on or off campus. To accommodate each session the current technology solutions use instant messaging, screencasting, video and audio broadcasting and polling features (Martin and Parker, 2014).
McCue and Scales (2007) has suggested with the recent advancement in streaming infrastructure technology along with the pedagogy pros of on-campus and off-campus teaching, a new pedagogy can be harnessed. Other studies have also found that students reported a positive if not better learning experience (Mohorovicic, 2011; Amhag, 2013 ; Irvine et al, 2013) using live synchronous technology to deliver course learning events. Reasons why learners are finding this approach appealing include: accessibility (Cunningham, 2014), encouraged active learning (Bower et al 2015), higher levels of engagement and community from off-campus students (Vue and Fadde, 2013), high quality of learning experience (Irvine net al, 2013), and on-demand process for review post-event (McCue and Scales, 2007).
Current streaming technology is still developing. Technical problems were reported by the majority of case studies using third party platforms (Cunningham, 2014, Bower et al 2015, McCue and Scales, 2007; Mohorovicic, 2011; Martin et al, 2012). The purpose of this study is to develop a software platform that can reduce the technical difficulties that arise from current platforms that are being used in HE institutes.
The literature we found addressed only small class teaching case studies, therefore scalability in streaming synchronous classrooms needs further work (Irvine et al, 2013). Our research will rely on a larger class size of 134 studying at undergraduate level.
Other issues are also present in the current research, but one major drawback that this study will attempt to resolve is the issue of increased cognitive load onto a tutor, since they are are simultaneously managing two very different learning cohorts (Popov, 2009; Bower et al, 2015).
Amhag, L. (2013). Collective webinars in higher distance education. Collective webinars in higher distance education, World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare and Higher Education, issue ID 40354. Beaubouef, T. and Mason, J. (2005). Why the high attrition rate for computer science students: Some thoughts and observations. SIGCSE Bulletin, 37, 103–106. Bower, M., Dalgarno, B., Kennedy, G. E., Lee, M. J., & Kenney, J. (2015). Design and implementation factors in blended synchronous learning environments: Outcomes from a cross-case analysis. Computers & Education, 86, 1-17. Cunningham, U. (2014). Teaching the disembodied: Othering and activity systems in a blended synchronous learning situation. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 15(6). HESA & Universities UK (2014). Patterns and trends in UK higher education 2014. Higher Eduaciton in Focus. [online] Available at: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/reports/Documents/2014/patterns-and-trends-in-uk-higher-education-2014.pdf . [Accessed 20 January 2017]. Irvine, V., Code, J. and Richards, L. (2013). Realigning higher education for the 21st century learner through multi-access learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2), 172. Martin, F., Parker, M. A., and Deale, D. F. (2012). Examining interactivity in synchronous virtual classrooms. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 228-261. Martin, F., and Parker, M. A. (2014). Use of Synchronous Virtual Classrooms: Why, Who, and How?. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 10(2), 192. McCue, L., and Scales, G. R. (2007). Embracing the middle ground: Engaging on-and off-campus students within the same ‘classroom’. In Proceedings, ASEE Southeast Section Conference, Louisville, KY. Mohorovičić, S., Lasić-Lazić, J., & Strčić, V. (2011, May). Webinars in higher education. In MIPRO, 2011 Proceedings of the 34th International Convention (1271-1274). IEEE. Oliver, W., Purcell, N., Salas, S., MacDonald, R. and Sun, W. (2015). Explaining the gap between enrollment and employment in computer information sciences, Issues in Information Systems, 16, 210-218. Popov, O. (2009). Teachers’ and students’ experiences of simultaneous teaching in an international distance and on-campus master’s programme in engineering. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3). Vu, P., & Fadde, P. J. (2013). When to talk, when to chat: Student interactions in live virtual classrooms. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 12(2), 41-52. Watson, C. and Li, F. W. B. (2014). Failure rates in introductory programming revisited. Proceedings of the 2014 conference on Innovation technology in computer science education (ITiCSE '14). New York: Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), 39-44.
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