Positive features about the group lab

  • Expanded time for more “hands on” experiences with supervision and feedback (as with any lab)
  • Increased number of situations where thinking is articulated, to write down the submitted answer, and to communicate with other members in the group.
  • Greater instructor awareness of what other students are thinking, and can do.
  • Availability to students of relevant information
  • Notes and work accessible to all in group for subsequent retrieval and review.

The art of making up group exercises

Exercises can be simple yet still effective. Asking students to provide written explanations of conceptual material (e.g. "What's wrong with the following attempt at a mutual exclusion algorithm?") can generate as much interest as a programming problem.

Group lab difficulties

  • Group dynamics: how to get all (especially the shy or intimidated) to participate.
  • Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL) techniques might be effective, but would require more instructional staff for what is only a moderate-sized course by Drexel standards.
  • "Lecture hostile" environment: Discreet access to the Internet and arrangements of furniture where small groups of people facing each other is not the ideal environment for giving a lecture.
  • Custom-designed furniture and a room of different dimensions would improve things but this was not feasible given our budget and environment.

Appropriate use of WebCT On-line quizzes

WebCT on-line quizzes are time consuming to produce, but they can provide automated instant feedback to a student. Questions that require short answers could be graded on-line fairly quickly and had the advantage of avoiding large amounts of paper accumulating in the instructor's office.
We found the administration of no- or low-credit quizzes as a way of giving students early warning about whether they were keeping up with the rest of the class on examinable material.
No controls yet for secure administration of exams via WebCT – at this point requires either custom-designed IT.

Feasibility and innovation

  • Attempts at innovative use of IT in instruction sometimes founder on the shoals of feasibility -- too expensive or too time-consuming to make it a part of routine -- than on a lack of IT features or ideas.
  • The Drexel group lab suggests that commodity status of the relevant equipment, ubiquitous networking, plus web-based course materials makes it feasible to support a different mode of instruction based on group collaborative work on either conceptual or programming material.
  • Such a classroom can provide an environment where students can more actively engaged in the course material -- or it can be more obvious to the instructor that interest is low or confusion is high.
  • Though not ideal, the classroom does appear to be livable and usable over an entire course on a variety of topics. This is a better indicator of long-term acceptance than having a room with the most features initially.