Student Development of Computer Based Learning Modules


First Year Electrical Engineering.

Rob Dove

Faculty of Engineering

University of Western Sydney - Nepean

Kingswood, NSW 2747

Bill Chia

Academic Computing Development

University of Western Sydney - Nepean

Westmead , NSW 2145


Development of interactive computer based material has been explored over the last two years at UWS Nepean's Faculty of Engineering. A pilot scheme was run during the Christmas vacation (1995-96) trialling the use of students as principal author/developers. The authoring package used was Asymetrix Multimedia TOOLBOOK. The students were able to achieve a great deal in a short time, at relatively small cost. This paper will discuss the experience gained and consider the implications for the future.

1. Aims

The project had a threefold aim.

First, to produce some interactive computer-based material to use in teaching first year students. First year teaching was targeted, as this is the key time to capture the hearts and imagination of students. In addition first year students frequently have difficulty adapting to university-style learning. It is widely recognised that teaching needs to take account of differing student learning styles [Dryden & Vos, 1994; Harb el al, 1995]. Computer based material can present concepts in a variety of dynamic ways, thus helping students to gain intuitive understanding. The underlying aim is to reduce the dropout rate for first-year students.

Second, to set future directions for the development and use of this sort of material. The importance of information technology to the future of education is now apparent and the need to foster it NOW is critical.

Finally it was aimed to inspire and motivate the students who were involved in creating the material.

2. Project Description.

2.1 Task

The task was to create interactive computer-based tutorials covering a range of first year engineering subjects. The authoring package to be used was Asymetrix Multimedia TOOLBOOK - CBT Edition. The aim was that the tutorials created would provide alternative ways for students to learn concepts and skills. These would be easy but exciting to use with a high degree of interactivity.

Students were to be used as the authors, involved in all aspects of the design and programming implementation. This contrasts with the approach taken in the development of "Circuit Tutor" where students were employed primarily as programmers [Burks Oakley II, 1995].

2.2 Selection of Student Authors.

The Dean of Engineering invited all interested second-year electrical engineering students to volunteer to be authors in the project. All volunteers were accepted - regardless of academic performance. These students had no prior knowledge of the TOOLBOOK authoring package but most had completed two single-semester courses on programming in C and C++.

2.3 Staff Support

Two staff members were involved in the day-to-day running of the project. An Engineering faculty lecturer co-ordinated the project and gave some subject matter and TOOLBOOK help. A member of the University's Academic Computing Development Unit provided TOOLBOOK expertise and training in courseware design principles.

2.4 Duration

The project employed the students for 3 days per week over two 3-week periods, a total of 18 days.

2.5 Training.

The first 1½ days consisted of intensive training in the use of the authoring package and in courseware design principles. The approach used in software training was a combination of exploring the built-in TOOLBOOK tutorial and performing simple tasks on existing software written in TOOLBOOK.

Courseware design principles were covered in a series of half-hour presentations. These included topics such as : strategy and the design process, review of the knowledge to be conveyed, organising knowledge for learning, representing knowledge for learning, presentation ® interaction ® feedback, navigation, aesthetics and consistency. A design guide sheet was given to the students to lead them through the design process for their topic.

After the initial training sessions, students participated in a 1½ day trial project in which all the students worked on modules for a tutorial presentation on complex numbers. At the end of this time the modules were demonstrated and discussed.

During the remaining 5 weeks, short training segments covering and reviewing design issues were interspersed with the project work.

2.6 Topics Covered

Students spent a significant amount of time choosing suitable topics. This involved the students and staff in several brainstorming sessions, seeking and outlining useful topics. Preference was given to topics that were deemed to be both important and difficult for students to master. The students were then responsible for selecting a topic or topics.

Most students worked individually on their topic although some worked in pairs. Some of the students worked on a new topic in the last 3-week period.

Topics selected were:

DC Circuits

AC Circuits



Laboratory Equipment

Digital Combinational Circuits

Digital Sequential Circuits

Analysis of TTL Circuits





Complex Numbers

In addition to these projects some students worked on modules for an information kiosk. These were:

University Map & Locator System

Staff Gallery

Student Survival Guide

Engineering Excitement.

3. Results

The project resulted in the production of 17 interactive computer-based modules. These were comprised of 13 tutorial modules and four modules for an information kiosk. There was quite a range in the quality and direct useability of the products.

Of the 13 tutorial modules :

In terms of the overall result we now have modules on the computer network, a source of suitable 'snippets' for lectures, a pool of modules for further development, a fund of expertise, new ideas and novel presentation techniques. Perhaps most importantly the project was highly motivating for all who participated.

4. Discussion

As we had hoped, the project raised a large number of issues.

Although TOOLBOOK allows lots of interactivity, many students naturally tended to follow an almost textbookish approach. There was a focus on text-based presentation rather than problem solving, discovery, surprise, interactivity, graphics and animation. A lack of suitable models may also have contributed to this. A similar problem was identified by Ruhlmann [1994]. A tendency for some students to value quantity over quality may have exacerbated this problem.

It is much easier to use multimedia material as a "snippet" in a lecture than to create and organise a complete computer-based tutorial program. A CBT program for a complete subject obviously involves a long production and review time. In addition running computer tutorials requires integration into the course and extra logistical organisation. CBT programs can be provided as a student reference but our experience to date is that students rarely find time to take advantage of any extra material offered.

The approach used in this project is well suited to creating useful lecture "snippets". Such snippets can be easily used and greatly enhance the presentation of concepts in lectures. They can also form the basis of stand-alone presentations in the future.

On the other hand this approach can be used for major tutorial projects if there is a clear implementation plan, the required infrastructure, staff time and commitment. This also requires a considerable shift in the teaching and learning patterns currently used.

5. Conclusions and Recommendations

All aims of the project were met at least partially.

A substantial body of useful software has been created.

The project has provided us with a wealth of experience and knowledge that will enable us to progress. In summary our key recommendations for similar projects are as follows.

The very obvious enthusiasm engendered by the project, both among the student developers and the staff involved, shows considerable merit in the general approach used.

6. References

Dryden, G., Vos, J., The Learning Revolution, Jalmar press, Rolling Hills Estates, USA, 1994

Harb, J.N., Terry, R.E., Hurt, P.K., Williamson, K.J., Teaching Through the Cycle - Application of Learning Style Theory to Engineering Education at Brigham Young University , 2nd Edition, Brigham Young University Press, 1995.

Burks Oakley II, Teaching Introductory Electrical Engineering in an ALN Environment: Lessons Learned,
misc/FinalReport.html, 1995

Ruhlmann, Felicitas, Designing Templates for Interactive Tasks in CALL Tutorials, paper presented at the meeting of EUROCALL (Karlsruhe, Germany, 1994)


R Dove, W Chia ©1996. The authors assign to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The authors also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 96 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.