Were the CCP modules a worthwhile experience? In the second survey, most students seemed to think so: 53 students made only positive comments while 19 made only negative comments (another 21 students found both good and bad points in the experience). The key question for me is whether using the CCP modules has helped the students learn, and both my students and I feel (on balance) that it has.
Bookman and Malone address the question of how students learn in an environment like a CCP laboratory, and we have seen some of the factors that helped or hindered learning for my students. Some of the things which my students felt helped them were
doing suitable preparation before the lab sessions, whether by studying their notes and text, or by doing appropriate exercises;
having to go over the material a second time -- in my case this happened because the modules were too long to complete in a single hour, so that students coming back to the labs to finish off a module needed firstly to review all the work they had already done -- but in any case the CCP modules encourage this activity with their summary questions at the end of each module;
a computer algebra system that lets you explore patterns or view things graphically.
To this list I (as the teacher) would like to add CCP's insistence that students check their answers although, as we have seen, this did not always work well in this instance. To get round this problem, I hope next time to give more regular feedback, rather than postponing all the grading until the end of the course.
On the other hand, the main hindrances that my students noticed were
difficulties with the computer algebra system; and
difficulties in working as a team -- whether because of timetable clashes or differences in language, preparation, or ability.
Next time I hope to reduce the latter difficulties by being a little more flexible in the way I assign students to teams.
Difficulties with the computer algebra system may be a little harder to cure. These difficulties were also common in Bookman and Malone's study (see their Vignettes 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7). For my students the difficulties might be partly explained by lack of experience with Maple. However, the fact that even experienced tutors cannot always resolve the difficulties suggests that we may never eradicate this problem, and should rather content ourselves with trying to minimise it. Next time I plan to give my students a more thorough grounding in Maple at the start of the course, but it is clear from some of my students' comments (and from the work of Bookman and Malone) that students also need advice on self-monitoring skills (knowing when to quit and start again, if necessary).
It is easy to get the impression, when reading accounts of student difficulties, that students are not coping very well. Despite the problems mentioned above, and those reported by Bookman and Malone, it needs to be remembered that most of my students did not think the problems were serious enough to merit mention on their survey forms. Indeed many felt that the lab sessions
#1: . . . were very useful in learning how to use Maple and learning a lot about the topics we were doing . . . I recommend this for next year.