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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Computer-mediated communication in a software engineering project course Page, Steven


Independent tools and fully integrated systems are currently being applied to educational settings, delivering educational content and activities to students. Asynchronous, computer-mediated communications enable students to reflect upon what they are learning, share their thoughts, and read those of others. Such communication tools facilitate active and collaborative learning. Two integrated systems, the Virtual University and the World Wide Web Course Tools, are examined, and compared to one another. Both are Web-based systems that deliver course content and activities to students, across a variety of hardware platforms and without geographical restriction. They are systems that integrate features for a full learning environment, combining instructor preparation facilities, on-line course content, student activities, assessment facilities, and communication tools into a single application. Comparisons are drawn between these systems based on their feature sets, and in the context of CPSC 319, an undergraduate software engineering team project course. I have observed the course, as a teaching assistant, for two years. It appeared to be a good fit for on-line tools, particularly because teamwork is a central emphasis of the course, and the students are familiar with computers. The intensity of the group work, however, and the unique grading structure, makes the course less compatible with these tools than it first appeared. A study of the course newsgroup and other on-line conference systems showed that, as expected, most students participated in the optional on-line discussion groups. The shape of this participation changed, however, between 1995-96 and 1996-97. There was a significant increase in the number of messages posted by each participant, while fewer students actually posted messages. The students rejected the VGroups conferencing system overwhelmingly, because it was perceived to duplicate tools they already had, and failed to reach a critical mass of participants.

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