Computer Science in BSc Music Technology
Computer Science in BSc Music Technology
Dr. Graham McAllister, School of Music
Students on the BSc in Music Technology are required to complete two compulsory modules on computer programming (Level 1 and first semester of Level 2). There are optional modules in the second semester of level 2 and level 3.
The purpose of these modules is to teach the fundamentals of computer programming, with the expectation that students will want to expand upon the facilities offered by the standard audio software packages. By understanding computer programming it would then be possible to create software which is unique to each student's own musical creativity. Traditionally, the module is taught by lecture, followed by a 2-hour tutorial. In the past, the lecture followed the traditional "descriptive" factual approach in teaching a computer language (where the language is defined), while in the tutorial the students are expected to work through a number of programming problems similar to those presented in class.
The students have good computer skills but most will not have done any programming, science or maths prior to coming to University.
The teaching innovation has occurred in two stages;
This involves the movement away from traditional lecturing about the computer language to a more interactive problem solving approach. The lecturer focuses more on presenting a computer programming problem, discussing and demonstrating a solution i.e. how the code develops. This approach is continued in the tutorials where the students work on their own but are encouraged to share difficulties and errors with the class so that all can see how these can be 'fixed'. Errors and mistakes are seen as useful learning tools.
This involves a restructuring of the course to introduce a module on problem solving at Level 1. The main thrust of the innovation will be a change at Level 1 from a traditional "descriptive" factual approach in teaching a computer language (where the language is central) to an "interactive" problem-solving approach (where the language is merely a tool to achieve an objective and the objective is central). To this end, the Level 1 module will concentrate completely on problem-solving behaviour - requiring the students to think about and describe how they solved problems. The lecturer will generate these problems and the tool for solving them is the Lego Mindstorms software, which controls a desktop robot and allows problems of varying degrees of difficulty to be set. It is meant to be accessible to children as young as 12 years old. It is expected that the students will work in teams, and divide their time between working on the computer and thinking about how they are going to achieve a solution to the problem. They will work through a process of thinking about the problem, implementing a solution, reviewing the implemented solution and updating it as appropriate. They will be required to present the solution and how they work through the process for assessment. This module will be supported by a website on problem solving which will include a checklist which will enable students to profile their problem solving skills. This will provide students with an indicator of their skills prior to starting the module and will highlight areas for particular attention.
Incentives to Innovate
The new approach was prompted by the fact that most of the students come from an Arts background and would not have much formal training in mathematical and scientific concepts as currently taught. They considered the programming abstract and difficult and found it hard to see the relevance of what they were doing. They could not translate from the problem into a solution. Often they tried to go straight to the computer before breaking the problem down into its constituent parts. The innovations aim to develop the students' problem solving skills in a more concrete, visual, fun and relevant way.
Another incentive is the desire to increase the number of students taking the optional programming module at Level 3. The tutor anticipates that if the students can achieve success in a 'fun' way at Level 1 and 2, they are more likely to select the optional module at level 3.
The tutor has been supported by a grant from the University's Innovation fund which has enabled him to buy the software for the problem solving module and develop the web site on problem solving. As a new module at Level 1 is being introduced, this will initially require some of the tutor's time to design and develop. However, as the assessment is achieved at the end of each lecture, there should be no traditional 'marking time' required.
Stage one innovation has been evaluated through the module evaluations. The student responses suggest that they have grasped the issue that the difficulties lay with their problem solving skills rather than the computer language. This understanding is further reinforced by the difference in the behaviour between those students who were exposed to the more interactive problem solving approach; they were more likely to focus on problem solving when presented with a problem, while students taught under the older approach where more likely to go straight to the computer and begin attempting to 'program'.
Effects of Teaching Innovation
- The teaching method at Level 1 will emphasise the verbalising of strategies, and will give credit for unsuccessful strategies (i.e. getting it wrong) as long as these are verbalised and used as a learning tool to develop further strategies.
- The method of delivery is increasingly moving from a teacher centred approach to a learner centred approach.
- Students are also working more collaboratively.
- The lecturer hopes to see an improvement of student motivation.
- There is more dialogue between peers and the tutor
- Students are more actively engaging in reflection and critical thought
- Develops the students' problem solving and critical evaluation skills
- Develops the students as independent thinkers as there is no one way to do things. Further, they are encouraged to express their own ideas.
- New approach aims to develop their team working skills and report writing skills
- Supports the better understanding of computer concepts.
Management of the module
- Students can access all necessary materials from the web in a more flexible and efficient way (for staff and students).