Adventurers in Learning — Part 2

What Has Gone Before

In Part 1, I introduced the basic concepts of the Team-Based Learning methodology (TBL) and my plan to implement it during the course of an undergraduate INF 202 Introduction to Data and Databases class.

Where We Are Going

In this entry, I will talk about my approach to designing the course. Although INF 202 has been taught for a number of years, I didn’t want to rely on prior course slides and structures for several reasons. First, this semester was my first time teaching INF 202. To truly command the material, I felt I needed to build the course from the ground up. Second, TBL (as with many other areas) has a particular pattern for course design. Third, Boss Jen (Director Jennifer Goodall) asked the INF 202 instructors to coordinate textbooks and structure as much as possible to create a parallel experience among all students in all sections. Finally, I wanted to spend more time on the newly popular n-NoSQL databases than was afforded in prior versions of the course.

Course Design

The Team-Based Learning (TBL) methodology recommends a “backwards design” approach. It asks instructors to look at outcomes first when building the course structure. The basic question: How will the students be affected by the class? This can be broken down into three parts:

What are the big ideas the students will take away?
What will they be able to do that they were not able to before (e.g., skills, intellectual processes)?
What perspectives will they develop that they did not have before (e.g., self-questioning)?

The answers to these questions should be contained in the course goals. The hope is that clear goals motivate students by creating real learning targets, focus student attention and the instructor on what matters, identify effective teaching methods, and aid in the creation of effective evaluation instruments.

Active and Concrete

To be effective, goals need to be stated in active, concrete terms. “Know”, “learn”, “appreciate”, “understand”, “become familiar” are mushy. “Select”, “recall”, “identify”, “apply” are more easily understood and, more importantly, measured.

INF 202 Goals

With all this in mind, I worked up the following goals and placed them at the top of the syllabus.

By the end of the semester, you should be able to
• Recognize the importance of data and its organization and manipulation in business, government, and society as a whole.
• Distinguish between types and forms of data, and the potential uses of that data.
• Account for security and privacy in any data collection and dissemination.
• Distinguish between types and forms of databases, and the types of data problems such databases are useful (and not so useful) in addressing.
• Analyze a data collection/discovery/extraction problem, highlighting its most important challenges.
• Identify one or more database solutions to address a given data collection/discovery/extraction problem.
• Design, in the broadest terms, a database solution, once identified.
• Query, at a basic level, a database solution once implemented.

My hope is that these goals focus the students on analyzing data problems, considering different solutions and tools, and internalizing the need for a methodology in doing so.

Looking over this now (several weeks later), I wonder if the “distinguish between types and forms of databases” clearly enough expressed my desire to get the students out of a mindset that “database” means only “relational database”. That would be an attitudinal change (assuming they had any attitude about databases to begin with).

Sections

With the goals fleshed out, I worked with my fellow INF 202 instructors to break the semester down into sections. (As you may recall, a TBL section is composed of RAT, activities, and assignment). The result was:

Section 1: Introduction (2 classes, 1 week)
Section 2: Nature of Data/Spreadsheets (4 classes, 2 weeks)
Section 3: Relational Database Development Lifecycle/ER Modeling (4 classes, 3 weeks)
Section 4: Relational Database/SQL (6 classes, 3 weeks)
Section 5: Key-value Database/Web (4 classes, 2 weeks)
Section 6: Columnar Database/Big Data (3 classes, 2 weeks)
Section 7: Document Database/XML (4 classes, 2 weeks)

By presenting five different types of databases (spreadsheets, relational, key-value, columnar, and document) and walking the students through some form of a relatively similar development process for each, I believe the structure should serve the goals well.

With each section roughed out, I had somewhat isolated, and thus more manageable, targets to attack on a week by week basis.

Props

Descriptions of the Team-Based Learning methodology, presented in this and subsequent entries, draw heavily from materials presented during a two-day Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership (ITLAL) seminar on the subject. Whatever success I might have in my TBL course, and in these notes, owes a great debt to the extraordinary ITLAL staff.

More to come,
M Alexander Jurkat
@malexkat

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2 thoughts on “Adventurers in Learning — Part 2

  1. Pingback: Adventures in Learning — Part 1 | The CCI Student Center Blog

  2. Pingback: Adventurers in Learning — Part 3 | The CCI Student Center Blog

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