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Assessment of Methods of Teaching Computer Courses to Computer Science Students

Assessment of Methods of Teaching Computer Courses to Computer Science Students in Selected Nigerian Polytechnics

Literature Review

Historical Background

The history of the computer is a study of human ingenuity used to develop tools to aid is calculating answers to problems and keeping track of result according to Mandel (1983).

Computers as we know them today, have only been around for less than half a century computing is therefore, a very recent phenomenon indeed. However, before the middle of the 20th century, there were several attempts at constructing machines, which, in the main, performed calculations quickly and automatically. In order to aid calculation, breads were strung along a series of wires in a wooden frame. This was born the Abasus, the most venerable of human calculating devices, which is still in, use today. 

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In the 13th century the Spanish theologian Roman Luib devised logic machine consisting of concentric geometrical figures on whose peripherals were inscribed basic principles in various branches of knowledge.

Furthermore, around 1617 mechanical aids to computation reappeared with the numbering roots of John Napier. As time progresses, so many other people devised a means of computation.


the word “Computer” is derived from a Latin word meaning to reckon  or  computer according to Donald (1982).

Initially, the  computer was designed as a tool to manipulate numbers and solve  automatic problem. This original use is as a result of the fact that most of the early designers were mathematician, scientists and engineers. However, it was realized that the computer could process symbols as well as numbers.

The word computer can be defined as a general- purpose  electronic device with application limited only by the creativity of  humans who use it, its power is derived from its speed, accuracy, and memory (Mandell, 1983).

Having defined computer, one might ask what is computer science.


I am a computer scientist. It is probably fair to say that most people know what computers are, but not many are aware of what computer science is all about. This is partly due to the fact that computer science is a very young  discipline. On this [age, I will attempt to explain my view of computer science.

Let me begin by explaining what computer science is not it is not knowing which personal computer to buy. It is not knowing five different programming languages or seven spreadsheet programs. It is not about how to design cool web pages. Some computer scientists know some or all of these things, but at best they are only side effects of their training. Computer science is the study of   algorithms. An algorithm is a finite sequence of steps, which when followed exactly, leads to the solution of a specific problem. An exact analogy is that of a recipe. The problem is that you need a particular type of food. If you follow the recipe exactly, then you should end up with something edible. The ingredients for the recipe are like the data used by an algorithm, the cook is like the computer, and the author of the recipe is like a computers programmer. We computer scientists are interested in computers because they are capable of carrying out algorithms. (perhaps we should be called Algorithmologists instead)


What do we need to be able to run algorithms on a computer? Well, we need to be able to formulate the algorithms, we need to write down these algorithms in way the computer can understand them (a program), we need a way to run the programme on the computer ( an operating system), and we need the computer itself. This leads us to the core subject areas science.

  1. Theory of computation

in this subject, problem are categorized according to the nature of algorithms to solve them.  Some problems have fast algorithms, some have only very slow algorithms (such problems are considered hared or sometimes intractable), some have no algorithms (like the halting problem).

  1. Algorithms and Data Structures

          this subject studies specific algorithms and associated data structures for solving specific problems. Part of this involves mathematical analysis to rate algorithm efficiency in the use of time and memory.

  1. Programming Language

          the computer understands instructions only on a very primitive level, called machine code (normally in binary). Humans do not work with machine code easily. In the 1960’s the first programming language, Fortran, was designed and a special program, called a compiler, was written for the purpose of translating Fortran programmes into binary code. Humans can now express their algorithms in a programming language, like Fortran or C++, and  use a compiler to translate it to machine code in order for it to run. The goal of the subject area of programming languages is to design better and more natural programming languages and faster and more efficient compilers.

  1. Operating Systems

          An operating system provides an Environment for developing and running programmes. Examples include windows 95, MacOS , Unix, and VMS. This subject area involves the design and implementation of new better operating system.

  1. Computer Architecture

          the goal of this subject area is to design and build better and faster computers. This includes the CPU, memory, I/O systems, the bus, and alternative architectures such as multiprocessors.

All of these areas have aspects that are mathematical. Here are a few examples: we prove theorems in Theory of Computation; we perform mathematical analysis in the Algorithms area; we use automata theory in programming language and compiler design; we use statistics and mathematical analysis in fine-tuning an operating system; and we also use logic in the construction of computer hardware. Also, the construction of large softwar3 systems like compilers and operating systems is an engineering problem (that is, software engineering).

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As a result, computer science may find itself as part of a mathematics department or as part of an electrical or computer engineering department. It may also stand as its own department in an arts and sciences college (like at Butler) or in an engineering college).

Additional Subject Areas of Computer Science 

          In addition to the core subject areas I mentioned above, there are a number of additional application subject areas that have traditionally been considered part of computer science:

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Computer Graphics
  3. Database Management Systems
  4. Ethics and Social Concerns
  5. Networks
  6. Numerical Methods
  7. Performance Modeling
  8. Robotics
  9. Symbolic Computer

A majority of computer science majors graduating from polytechnics will work with development of advanced computer based systems, in industry, consulting companies and bodies of the government. A minority of them will work with development of systems software, hardware/software design on the systems level, teaching, and with basic or applied research in computer science or (applied) mathematics. It is the purpose of the education to enable the student to succeed in his/her professional career, which takes p lace in the context of a rapidly changing technology. In order to succeed in this work, the student must have certain knowledge, skills and attitudes.

A       knowledge and skills (general)

One main objective of the education is to provide the intellectual foundations for future professional development. A cornerstone in this is mathematical reasoning. It is essential that the student should be familiar with basic concepts of mathematical areas. In particular (s) he should be comfortable with the concepts of mathematical theorem and proof.

A somewhat orthogonal but equally important goal is to prepare the student in order to function well in cooperation with colleagues of different or similar backgrounds. On a more detailed level the student should:

  1. Understand and freely use basic algebra and analysis.
  2. Understand and freely use basic reasoning in mathematical statistics and probability theory.
  3. Get an understanding for which mathematical    problems should be attacked by analytical methods         and which should be attacked by numerical methods.   To understand and freely use methods from    numerical analysis.
  4. Understand the significance of mathematical models; an approximation of reality used to better analyzes   reality.
  5. Be able to formulate and solve problems. Be able to differentiate between problems that are mathematically well define and problems that are not   mathematically well defined.
  6. be able to read scientific and professional journal in areas of applied mathematics and computer science.
  7. Be competent in identifying and using inherent patterns and possibilities of abstraction in the problem, model and implementation domain.
  8. Be able to successfully communicate (both verbally and in writing) in English with colleagues of various       backgrounds.
  9. To know methods for organizing projects and enterprise.

B       Knowledge and Skills (special)

Of course it is of central importance to prepare the student inside his/ her major special, i.e about various aspects of computers. There are again two important components. First the student should master the current technology, but secondly, and perhaps even more important, the student should be ready to adsorb new technology. In particular the student should:

  1. be competent in methods for software analysis, design and implementation. Master contemporary programming methods and systems. To correctly         assess the difficulty of a problem and to evaluate       alternatives.
  2. be familiar with discrete and continuous optimization (both in theory and practice) and numerical software.
  1. Be able to communicate with applications about software. Be able to formulate and understand requirements on software, and argue or assess the fulfillment of them in particular cases, using different methods and different levels of precision and formalization.
  2. Understand methods for user instruction and documentation, and being able to choose a suitable level in each case.
  3. Be skilled in understanding, evaluating, and using tools for software development, operating systems, languages, programming environments, data base systems, communication software, user interfaces.
  4. Have an understanding of computer architecture.
  5. Be familiar with the use of testing in all relevant stages of development.
  6. Have a general understanding about the life cycle of a computer application.

C       Attitudes

Apart from acquiring certain skills it is important that the student also acquires certain attitudes.  In particular the following attitudes are important:

  1. Ability to tackle new and difficult problem creatively.
  2. interest in learning and introducing/implementing new software technology.
  3. To understand that developments in computer science will make new applications profitable and new   methods viable.
  4. Ability to present own ideas and work convincingly and honestly.

There are several teaching methods irrespective of the course of study. Below are a description of the basic principles and procedures of most recognized methods of teaching.


McCathy (1992) categorized teaching methods into fourteen types such as:

(a)     Lecture


  • Presents factual materials in direct, logical manner
  • Contains experience which inspires
  • Stimulates thinking to open discussion
  • Useful for large groups


  • Experts are not always good teachers
  • Audience is passive
  • Learning is difficult to gauge
  • Communication in one way


  • Needs clear introduction and summary
  • Needs time and content limit to be effective
  • Should include examples, anecdotes

b   Lecture with Discussion  

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  • Involves audience at least after the lecture
  • Audience can question, clarify & challenge


  • Time may limit discussion period
  • Quality is limited to quality of questions and discussion


  • Requires that questions be prepared prior to discussion
  • Panel of Experts


  • Allow experts to present different opinions
  • Can provoke better discussion than a one-person discussion
  • Frequent change of speaker keeps attention from lagging


  • Experts may not be good speakers
  • Personalities may overshadow content
  • Subject may not be in logical order


  • Facilitator co-ordinates focus of panel, introduces and summarizes
  • Briefs panel
  • Brainstorming


  • Listening exercise that allows thinking for new ideas
  • Encourages full participation because all ideas equally recorded
  • Draws on group’s knowledge and experience
  • Spirit of congeniality is created
  • One idea can spark off other ideas


  • Can be unfocused
  • Needs to be limited to 5-7 minutes
  • People may have difficulty getting away from known reality
  • If not facilitated well, criticism and evaluation may occur


  • Facilitator selects issue
  • Must have some ideas if group needs to be stimulated
  • Videotapes


  • Entertaining way of teaching content and raising issue
  • Keep group’s attention
  • Looks professional
  • Stimulates discussion


  • Can raise too many issues to have a focused discussion
  • Discussion may not have full participation
  • Only as effective as following discussion


  • Need to set up equipment
  • Effective only if facilitator prepares questions to discuss after the show
  • Class Discussion


  • Pools ideas and experiences from group
  • Effective after a presentation, film or experience that needs to be analyzed
  1. Allow everyone to participate in an active process


  • No practical with more that 20 people
  • Few people can dominate
  • Others may not participate
  • Is time consuming
  • Can get off the track


  • Requires careful planning by facilitator to guide discussion
  • Requires question outline

(g)     Small Group Discussion


  • Allows participation of everyone
  • People often more comfortable in small groups
  • Can reach group consensus


  • Needs careful thought as to purpose of group
  • Groups may get side tracked


  • Needs to prepared specific tasks or questions for group to answer

(h)    Case Studies


  • Develops analytic and problem solving skills
  • Allows for exploration of solutions for complex issues
  • Allows student to apply new knowledge and skills


  • People may not see relevance to own situation
  • Insufficient information can lead to inappropriate results


  • Case must be clearly defined in some cases
  • Case study must be prepared

    (i)     Role Playing


  • Introduces problem situation dramatically
  • Provides opportunity for people to assume roles of others and thus appreciate another point of view
  • Allows of exploration of solutions
  • Provides opportunity to practice skills


  • People may be too self-conscious
  • Not appropriate for large groups
  • People m ay feel threatened


  • Trainer has to define problem situation and roles clearly
  • Trainer must give clear instructions

(j)      Report-Back Sessions


  • Allows for large group discussion of role plays, case studies, and small group exercise
  • Gives people a chance to reflect on experience
  • Each group takes responsibility for its operation


  • Can be repetitive if each small group says the same thing


  • Trainer has to prepare questions for groups to discuss

(k)     Worksheets Surveys


  • Allow people to do thing for themselves without being influences by other
  • Individual thoughts can then be shared in large group


  • Can be used only for short period to time


  • Facilitator has to prepare handouts

(i)      Index Card Exercise


  • Opportunity to explore difficult and complex issues


  • People may not do exercise


  • Facilitator must prepare questions

(m)    Guest Speaker


  • Personalizes topic
  • Breaks down audience’s stereotypes


  • May not be a good speaker


  • Contact speakers and co-ordinate
  • Introduce speaker appropriately

(n)     Values Clarification Exercise


  • Opportunity to explore values and beliefs
  • Allow people to discuss values in a safe environment
  • Gives structure to discussion


  • People may not be honest
  • People may be too self-conscious


  • Facilitator must carefully prepare exercise
  • Must give clear instructions
  • Facilitator must prepare discussion questions

Kerper Mora (2002) classified teaching methods as:-

(a)     The Grammar:- Translations Approach. This approach was historically used in teaching Greek and Latin. The approach was generally to teaching modern languages.

Classes are taught in the student’s mother tongue, with little active use of the target language. Elaborate explanations of grammar are always provided. Little attention is part to the content of texts, which are treated as exercises in grammatical analysis, often the only drills are exercises in translating disconnected sentences from the target language into the mother tongue, and vice versa. Little or no attention is given to pronunciation


This approach was developed initially as a reaction to the grammar translation approach in an attempt to integrate more use of the target language in instruction.


This approach is selected for practical and academic reasons for specific uses of the language in graduate or scientific studies. The approach is for people who do not travel abroad for whom reading  is the one usable skill in a foreign language


This method is base on the principles of psychology. It adapted many of the principles and procedures of the direct method, in part as a reaction to the lack of speaking skills of the Reading Approach.


apart from the teaching methods discussed above, we know technology is changing now and then. There are some other teaching methods such as:

I        Multimedia Instructional Aids for teaching computer science.

  1. Virtual learning method (teaching online)
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Both teaching and learning is computer science courses can potentially benefit from multimedia presentations (jones & Morgan, 2002) According to Thomas (200), multimedia is a way of presenting to the user a combination of different forms of (ie video conference)

The fundamental types of informational content for processing by multimedia instruction aids and text, hypertext,

Still mages, animated sequences and executable program code.

In multimedia there are two classes of systems as potential delivery platforms: algorithm animation systems and web browses.  Also multimedia application Development toolkit is included in potential delivery platform

Ii       virtual Learning Method/Environments

There are currently thousands of schools and colleges operating on the internet and it is now possible to get a degree without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home.

Virtual learning environment are hugely diverse in size, capabilities and services offered and can later for individuals ranging in attainment levels, ages and special needs. The Jones International University, the first accredited “cyber-University” to operate completely online, was thought to envision the future of the “mega-University and set the trend for education institutions online (Rankin, 1997) current educational virtual environments are large and extensive and can be difficult to defined as they are constantly changing and evolving.

Virtual environment encourages freedom of expression and students are more open to communicate and express opinion.

In virtual environment, the class is learned through text posted online, e-mail and real time chat with classmates and electronic assignments students in virtual class spent 50% more time work with each other.


having discussed methods of teaching  generally let us consider the  methods of teaching computer courses to computer science major. Below are the methods for teaching computer courses .

  1. Online
  2. Lecture
  3. Lecture with Discussion
  4. Class Discussion
  5. Computer aided instruction
  6. Demonstration
  7. Practical Assignment
  1. Multimedia Instructional aids


In a physical classroom there are standard set of equipment and tools. This usually includes:-

(a)     Visual materials such as

  1. Printed material
  2. Textbooks
  3. Programmed instructional materials
  4. Chalkboards
  5. Still pictures

(b)     Audio Aids

  1. Video Player
  2. Tape recorder

In computer laboratory., the equipment and tolls are:-

  1. Computer
  2. Computer white board
  3. Disk
  4. Printer
  5. Scanner
  6. Compact disk (CD)
  7. Instructional manual
  8. Projector


Bernstein (1997) identified nine suggestion for computing classroom such as:-

(a)     At the beginning of the first computing course for        majors, state that there no computing course for     majors state that there are no prerequisites to the         course.

  • Consider adding a new, beginning course on the computer and information system (CIS) curriculum on information Tools.   Such a course, concentrating on tools before programming, might level out the playing field between entering students in computing
  • Survey the class on their perceived knowledge of various computing subjects. Share the result of the survey, as soon as possible at the beginning of the term. This might allay fears by some students that everyone knows more than they do. Surveying also allowed us to approach the undecided major on the virtues of becoming a computing major undecided students are out opportunities to increase the number of majors.
  • Explicitly teach how to get onto the internet, use electronic mail and the World Wide Web. Do not assume that students will learn through the grapevine
  • Don’t forget the needs of the advance d students. Introduce them to each other. Suggest more challenging work that they can explore.
  • Discuss the time-consuming aspect of computing with students. Acknowledge that they have chosen a course and a major, which take a lot of time.
  • Do not give homework problems where the people who spend the most time in front of the computer get the  best grads. For example, beginning students sometime spend hours working on their computer out put by adding graphic design and bold, underlined and blinking text. Unless that is the point of the assignment, it should not result in a better mark.
  • In class, discuss problems with the computer center. However, though one should be sympathetic to the students’ problems, try to encourage assertiveness when they deal with the computer center. When is it the students’ problem and when is it the computer center’s problem? And how can they tell the difference?
  • Explain to students that they do not have to become experts on all the software applications.

 Assessment of Methods of Teaching Computer Courses to Computer Science Students


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