J. Murphy, C. O'Donnell, M. English, A.E. Mahdi

University of Limerick (IRELAND)
Historically entry level programming modules have shown an above average failing rate. This situation has been compounded in recent years due to the introduction of programming modules for traditionally non-ICT major courses. This paper looks at an additional learning support tool that, in effect, forms a hybrid learning approach for an entry level programming module at our institution, implemented through a mixture of standard lectures/tutorials/labs and peer-learning computer based practical (PLCBP) sessions. The PLCBP sessions were run as optional extra support for the students outside of scheduled class time using a graphically based development environment known as Greenfoot. Greenfoot is an interactive Java development environment designed primarily for educational purposes at the high school and undergraduate level. It allows easy development of two-dimensional graphical applications, such as simulations and interactive games and aims to motivate learners quickly by providing easy access to animated graphics, sound and interaction. The environment is highly interactive and encourages exploration and experimentation. The aim of the sessions was to enhance the students’ conceptual understanding of Object Orientated Design (OOD), as delivered through lectures, underpinning this with an additional hands-on, computer-based practical application of the theory. The sessions also provide the students with the opportunity to practice their programming using a different development environment to the one they would be using in class. The PLCBP sessions followed an adapted form of the peer-learning programme used at our institution whereby a peer-leader, through group problem-solving discussions and exercises, facilitates the students to perform simple tasks towards building a small game. The impact of this scheme was evaluated using both qualitative and quantitative analysis. This includes feedback obtained from all students using an online questionnaire providing qualitative data. The quantitative analysis was based on module grades acquired by the students after completion of the module. Results to be reported in the full paper suggest that this innovative approach, using Greenfoot as an additional learning support tool, has consolidated students’ understanding of the material covered in class and, most importantly, improved their grades.