To Evaluate a Computer-based Learning Environment against Traditional Means of Delivery


Harjinder Rahanu, Jennifer Davies and Mike Allen (UK)


Within the School of Computing and IT, University of Wolverhampton, the Social, Legal and Professional Aspects of Computing (SLAPA) module is taught on the undergraduate degree programmes and a version is taught at MSc level. The broad aim of the module is to allow students to better function as professionals when in employment, by studying the ethical duties associated with computer use. Students enrolled on the module are taught ethical analysis of scenarios that are met in the IT world. At the present time students use text-based paper copies of real world scenarios, which are worked through in the classroom as examples. Finally, as part of their assessment regime, students are given a text-based scenario to analyse. To further assist their deliberations they use a Case-Based Reasoner (CBR) to find the closest matching worked case from a library of cases to serve as an exemplar.

The Wolverhampton Online Learning Framework (WOLF) is a purpose-built computer-based learning environment developed by the University of Wolverhampton. The University’s Learning and Teaching Strategy aims to support learning with technology, with WOLF as the favoured vehicle.

This research intends to compare the impact of different information presentation systems to determine which best enhances student learning on the Social, Legal and Professional Aspects of Computing module. The current text-based information system without images will be compared to a multimedia system, which is more dynamic and interactive, and will be developed to include both text and video images as part of the research project. It is anticipated that the multimedia system will be demonstrated at ETHICOMP 2002. This approach will be delivered via WOLF and is based on the example project demonstrated by Staley . Caldeira has reported research into a comparison of the effectiveness of different information systems on student learning.

Two classes of subjects, semester 1 and semester 2 SLAPA module students will be set an ethical analysis assignment. The semester 1 students will be taught, as currently, using text based material and required to use the CBR to retrieve the closest matching case and adapt the resolution to the current example.

Semester 2 students will do a similar ethical analysis assignment. However, they will be exposed to a different teaching strategy: the multimedia system will facilitate the student’s learning through video scenarios linked to teaching material. They will not use the paper-based text examples or CBR. In the former system material will be presented via hypertext links in a “tree” format. In the latter traditional system the material is presented sequentially. The former WOLF-based system should better encourage independent learning. Additionally, WOLF will allow teaching staff to monitor students’ activities using the multimedia system to provide a measure of the extent to which individual students are engaging with the task.

The grades for assignments achieved by individual students can be used as indicators as to which information system is the more conducive to enhancing student learning. In comparing grades between semester 1 and 2 students it will be essential that the researchers compare like students with like. Hence, a comparative sample will be taken from each group based on their final degree classifications. A questionnaire will be distributed to semester 2 students to ascertain user satisfaction in the multimedia system.

The following benefits are anticipated:

  • A better understanding of the use of Technology Supported Learning (TSL) as a vehicle for learning of computer ethics in education and industry
  • A new approach to TSL for School of Computing & IT
    Impetus for other organisations to evaluate alternative technological approaches to TSL
  • Potential enhancements of the effectiveness of teaching and learning for computer ethics modules in education
  • Feeding into the British Computer Society (BCS) development of a strategy for teaching the Code of Conduct under the auspice of the BCS Ethics Expert Panel

The effectiveness of using a Technology Supported Learning approach in an educational setting must be evaluated in comparison to the existing traditional means of delivery to justify the switch from one approach to another.


Rahanu, H. and Davies, J. (1998)
Intelligent Reasoner for Failed Information Systems Projects
Accessed 21st March 2002

Staley, A. (2001)
Computer Supported Experiential Learning
Birmingham: University of Central England in Birmingham Press

Caldeira, P.Z. (2001)
Are the Information Technologies the New Discrimination Tools? Results from a Study on Learning, Satisfaction and Technology
In the proceedings of the 5th International Conference on the Social and Ethical Impacts of ICT (Ethicomp2001), Gdansk, June 18-20, 2001, Vol. (1), pp.116-126.