C. De Castro

National Research Council (ITALY)
The economic crisis, the increasing unemployment rate and the ICT revolution make the education reform deeply challenging: the young must handle an unpredictable labour market. Methods that had been applied for decades must thus be revised in depth.
Traditional teaching provides students with a strong preparation, so as to make them able to keep up to date and master new subjects and technologies in rapid evolution. Such capabilities must thus be enforced: flexibility, autonomy, interdisciplinary skills, ability to face new tasks in a new environment.
This work discusses some aspects of the problem and proposes a possible revision of traditional face to face lectures. Based on a long teaching experience of “Fundamentals of Databases” (Computer Science curriculum, Ferrara University, Italy), can be applied to primary and secondary school as well. The main aim is to understand any kind of environment and represent it in a digital way. The general approach involved face to face theoretic lectures, exercises and laboratory. In the last five years, an increasing difficulty arose in keeping attention high and involve students.
The problem was faced from three viewpoints: (i) motivation and self-motivation; (ii) new market requirements; (iii) face to face vs interactive learning methods.
Some experiences were carried out, engaging pupils through interactive activities and autonomous choices, in order to help the teacher to modify his methods students to change their attitude towards their job. Three main ones are described in the following. In all cases, material was presented to the whole class, in order to compare and understand different approaches.

1. A database can represent any kind of environment of interest, not necessarily familiar to the designer; particular attention must thus be paid to the analysis and development of realistic medium-size databases. Students are generally proposed a “ready-made” text; in this case, they were asked to find the environment in the real world, interviewing customers before the design phase.
2. For a long time, software was decided by the teacher. In order to develop autonomy, students were spurred to analyze different possibilities for solving the problem. This is just an example of how a strong market requirement can be strengthened through a relative simple teaching method change. Of course, students should also be prepared to analyze the evolution of market requirements, find new tools, possible application fields and opportunities autonomously and maintain such capabilities over time.
3. Pupils were led to face the basics of a new subject without being aware, changing the usual viewpoint and applying tools they already mastered. In particular, the course comprehends a basic introduction to data warehouse. In a traditional, operational database representing sales, the focus is on single sales and clients. A data warehouse analyses huge amount of sales, in order to understand trends. Instead of being presented some preliminary concepts, the students were first asked to design a traditional database scheme of car sales, then to transform it in order to move the focus on the trend.

All such observations guided the teacher to revise the course in a sort of hypertextual mode. In particular, some prerequisites are currently presented, then some different, equivalent autonomous activities proposed, to be faced in whichever order; when new prerequisites are needed, the process restarts.