Database Disciplinary Commons Portfolio – David Nelson (2009/10)



1.       Context

2.       Content

3.       Instructional Design

4.       Delivery

5.       Assessment

6.       Evaluation

DAN 27/09/2010



This is my portfolio developed as my contribution to the Database Disciplinary Commons that I was a member of during the 2009/10 academic year.  Within this each member had to focus on one of the modules that they were teaching during that year, and develop a portfolio which discusses and evaluates certain parts (as identified by the section numbers above) of the teaching and delivery of that module, as well as meeting monthly to discuss various aspects of the module.  The module that I have chosen to cover is CIF302 Advanced Database Concepts.  The reasons for choosing that module are:

-          It is a module which is taught throughout the year;

-          I am module leader so am primarily responsible for the content, method of delivery and assessments in the module;

-          It is a final year module and specifically covers aspects which I am passionate about so I believe are interesting for the students development in the subject and to a reasonably advanced level;

-          The teaching and assessment style includes a number of what I believe to be fairly novel aspects.



1.     Context


1.1 Context Discussion

CIF302 Advanced Database Concepts is a final year (i.e. level three) undergraduate module which is taken as an option by students on the following programmes:

·         BSc Computing

·         BA Business Computing

·         BSc Multimedia Computing

The module was developed in 2005 (mainly by me) as an update to a previous module COM348 Advanced Database Systems.  The main change was to move from a 10 credit (i.e. 100 learning hours) to a 20 credit (i.e. 200 learning hours) module, subsequently updating and increasing the material covered in the new module.  One other major change to the module was the assessment strategy, whereby a portfolio was introduced which the students tailor to their interest and abilities.  At the time of development this was seen as a new and very novel approach.  This is something we will discuss further in a later section.

The module was developed as one of a suite of modules within a database strand (the development of the three modules was led by me), within the validation of the department’s suite of programmes developed in 2005.  The module is still current, although will be replaced in the 2011/12 academic year by an updated module as part of a re-validation exercise that took place in the 2008/09 academic year.

The artefacts chosen for this section of the portfolio have been chosen to illustrate how the module fits in, as a module in a strand of database modules, and secondly its fit within the programmes that the department delivers.

1.2  Context Artefacts

TETRIS Powerpoint presentation.  This set of slides illustrates the structure of all the undergraduate programmes that were developed in the 2005 undergraduate programmes validation.  Specifically the green strand shows how the database modules fit within the various programmes (specifically BA Business Computing, BSc Computing and BSc Multimedia Computing) that the school offered.

CIF102, CIF202, CIF302 module descriptors.   These documents together show the context of where the level 3 database module fits in both the programmes structure and the database strand of modules.  It also explains the background of students taking the module.  I have also chosen to include two further module descriptors, CIFM01 and CIF205 Level Two Placement.  The placement module descriptor is attached because a number of students take a placement year in industry between level two and level three.  This adds to the CIF302 module because a number of these placement students work with databases during their placement, and therefore have some work related experience to add during the CIF302 database module.

The CIFM01 module descriptor is included because this is one of the modules in the department’s MSc Software Engineering.  A number of students in the past have moved from their undergraduate studies into this MSc and therefore develop their database skills further in a more advanced module.


2       Content

2.1 Content Discussion

CIF302 is an advanced module on databases, following level one and level two modules on databases.  Students should have gained basic skills and understanding and a reasonable level of experience in using Oracle (in level two, Access in level one) for SQL and forms application development.  My aim is for this module to look more at relational theory, data models, and then some advanced aspects such as performance, data warehousing and database integration.  It is very much a classroom based module, students are given practical sessions where necessary, and portfolio exercises are largely practical.  Most sessions consist of lecture material interspersed with practical paper-based exercises.  In my view this works as the module can then focus more on advanced concepts – the students have explored database application development in the level two module, and my aim is for this module to be much more about the theory and advanced aspects of database systems.

The module is taught jointly by myself and a colleague (however I am module leader and the majority of the materials for the module are/have been developed by me).  It has always been taught in this way, and I believe it improves the student’s learning experience, as it means they get different viewpoints on areas, and facilitates discussion during the sessions.

One thing we were required to discuss in the Disciplinary Commons was which text book we use, and our justification.  My reasoning is below.

Text book

The text book used in this module is Connolly and Begg: Database Systems.  Every (well, most) lecture has a pointer to further reading from this book.  The reason I use this book is primarily for historical reasons – it has been used in level one and two since before I started at this university, and therefore there are a large amount of copies in the library.  It also means that the students have one database text book for all of the levels.  This book is reasonably good because it has readable descriptions and coverage of the area, although sometimes I find that the understanding/description of advanced aspects can be a bit lacking.  Because of that, I always give pointers to equivalent reading from Date – which covers some topics in more detail, but which can be very theoretical in some parts and not the best choice for some of our students.  It also does not have a balanced view on some subjects, e.g. OO and OR databases.  This is especially noticeable in later editions where in my opinion the author seems to have a very biased view towards relational systems.

In the module, the students are also guided towards advanced reading from other books/papers during sessions as and where necessary.


2.2  Content Artefacts

CIF302 Module Handbook.  This contains a description of the module content to ‘set the scene’ for students at the beginning of the module as to what areas they will cover.  Accompanying this document is the Module Schedule for this instance of the module, describing the module content on a session by session basis.

Finally, a Powerpoint slide which was produced for the Disciplinary Commons session is attached.  This slide highlights the areas of database which I believe to be important and less important for inclusion in this database module.  You’ll notice from this that my main interest is in database theory, i.e. data models.  This is because this was the area that I studied for my PhD and my interest for this area has continued – I believe it is still the most important area of databases and students need fundamental understanding of this for a sound grounding in databases.


3       Instructional Design

3.1  Instructional Design Discussion

In this section my understanding is that we are expected to discuss our rationale for the way we design and teach the module.  As part of the disciplinary commons meetings, I produced some notes on my teaching style and methods, which I believe outline the content for this session.  I was also required to produce a document outlining my teaching philosophy, which I have included as an artefact for this section of the portfolio.

What methods do I use?

Primarily classroom based, most sessions consist of a lecture with at least one exercise.  Exercises vary, normally groupwork including:

-   Quizzes

-   Group discussions and presentations

-   Short tasks to complete, either individually or in small groups


There are a few machine-based sessions during the module, to cover advanced database material (e.g. Oracle’s OR features, data warehousing, performance analysis) that the students haven’t seen in previous modules.


For what purposes do I use certain methods?

Module mostly theoretically based, therefore majority of sessions are in the classroom.

Students have already had exposure to Access (level 1) and Oracle (level 2, including forms application development), so this module is primarily classroom based looking at advanced database topics.

Each session is two hours.  One session per week, for 24 sessions.

Normally includes a lecture – no more than 60 minutes max, with short exercises taking place either during the lecture or at the end.  The aim is to facilitate discussion throughout the session.

A number of sessions are set aside for ‘portfolio reviews’ to give students feedback on their portfolio construction.  Students are given 5-10 minute individual review sessions.

One session is set aside for group presentations on database benchmarking, which forms part of their portfolio.

One session will be set aside for students to complete, and peer-mark, exam questions as revision for the end of module examination.  Students find this session very useful as they are also shown the marking scheme, which allows them to think further about how they should be answering questions in a level three examination.

One session will be a guest lecture – this year is a presentation and demonstration of database performance by Mike Flower from Ingres.  This session got excellent feedback from the students and I will certainly invite Mike back again.

What other methods could I use?

Students suggest they would like more practical, i.e. machine based sessions.  My own view is that this would detract from the content of the module, and reduce the content of the module.


3.2  Instructional Design Artefacts

Teaching Philosophy document.  This is a document which was produced for one of the early Disciplinary Commons sessions.  Within this document, I believe it clearly outlines my views and thoughts on why I teach this module the way I do.

My second artefact is a tutorial exercise for session 11 on OODBs.  As I have outlined the module is delivered mostly in the classroom, with a number of interactive elements to most sessions.  As an addition to the module for this year, a new tutorial exercise was added primarily to enhance the student’s understanding of object-oriented databases.  This was added to the session for a number of reasons:

1.       To remove the fact that there was solely a lecture with one exercise at the end;

2.       To get the students thinking themselves about why we may need other data models;

3.       To get the students to discuss their ideas/thoughts in groups;

4.       Expanded the content so that the material on OODBs would last two sessions and thus enhance their learning, perception and understanding of OODBs;

5.       To set the scene for the following session on object-relational databases.


4       Delivery

4.1  Delivery Discussion

I find the boundary between discussion instructional design and delivery to be fairly blurred, and the majority of the description of the delivery of the module is included in the section on Instructional Design.  So, I’ll get on straight to the artefacts which show how the module is delivered by including some student work from one of the tutorial exercises.

4.2  Delivery Artefacts

The artefact for this session consists of a number of photos of student work in the session on Data Warehousing.  In this session, the students were given the task of producing posters as if they were selling the concept of ‘Data Warehousing’ to a supermarket organisation.  The students were put into groups and required to talk through the poster that they produced.  Poster 1, poster 2 and poster 3 were produced by Business Computing students, poster 4, poster 5 and poster 6 were produced by BSc Computing students and BSc Multimedia Computing students.  I have included these because getting students to develop and discuss posters was something I introduced specifically for this instance of the module to improve interactivity and to check student’s learning.  I think it shows a good outcome from the disciplinary commons that I have applied to enhance my teaching and learning styles.


5       Assessment

5.1  Assessment Discussion

The assessment for this module introduced, at its time, a novel idea which was to have an individualised portfolio as the coursework element for the module.  This makes up 50% of the assessment, and a closed-book two hour examination makes up the second 50% of the assessment.  The exam is included primarily to check the authenticity, and check students understanding, of the module material, and to test their application of knowledge.

The portfolio plays a large part of the module.  The portfolio guidelines describe in detail the structure of the final portfolio submission, and the intermittent review points in the module for giving the students preliminary feedback on the content of their portfolio.

The portfolio is handed out in week two of the module.  At this point it is stressed as to the importance of starting this early to gain feedback and to manage their time effectively.  These are the primary reasons why in weeks 7/8 and weeks 16/17 of the module each student has an individualised feedback session.  At these reviews the students are given specific detail on what to bring to the reviews, so that relevant feedback can be given on the content of the portfolio.  In order to ensure that students attend these review sessions and benefit from this, the review sessions are marked (5% each) and the mark counts towards their final portfolio submission.

This year one of the elements of the portfolio was a group presentation, given later on in the module.  A number of students however were unhappy with this as they felt that group work in the final year of their degree was unfair as they don’t then have full control over something which counts towards their final degree classification.  For next year I’ll have to have a re-think about this.

The second assessment for this module is the examination.  This is a two hour examination, where the students have a choice of three questions out of six.  One thing I’ve done for the last year, and also for this year, is to schedule an examination revision session whereby the students work in group, answering a real examination question, and then peer marking another groups answers.  This has worked really well, and I believe it gives the students a large amount of insight into how to answer examination questions.

5.2  Assessment Artefacts

The first artefact for this section is the portfolio guidelines.  This document describes the overall content and structure of the portfolio for the module.  During the module, the students are given further documentation, for example information about specific elements and information describing the review sessions.  Accompanying this therefore are two sample elements from the portfolio.  Element 1 is a relational algebra exercise, and element 4 is an exercise covering the object-relational databases.

Finally, sample review feedback sheets are attached, for two students (one from BA Business Computing and one from BSc Computing) with a mark for their review material.


6       Evaluation

6.1  Evaluation Discussion

At Sunderland we are encouraged to use the ‘nominal feedback’ technique in all modules.  I adopt a solution which is close to this but I believe encourages the students to think more and discuss their feedback

1.       Students are put into groups, and then each group is asked to list three positive things and three negative/room for improvement aspects of the module.

Then I go round each group, getting one suggestion from each group at a time, until all groups have given all their points.

Students are given about 10 minutes for discussion of this.

2.       Students, in the same groups, are then requested to look at all the responses from all of the groups and asked to discuss and rank which are the most important three positive and most important three negative points.  They are specifically told not just to consider their own points.


They are given approx. 10 minutes to discuss this.


3.       Each group is then asked for their ranking and these are collated together, a list is then produced of the students feedback ranked according to their selection.


This feedback is then collated for the annual report form which is produced at the end of the module.  The annual report form is then formally submitted, considered by the board of studies for the programme(s) which include it as a module.  The programme leader then writes the programme annual report which includes a discussion of feedback from all of the modules.


6.2  Evaluation Artefacts

Included in this section are two artefacts.  The first is the actual feedback from the students from the ‘nominal feedback’ sessions which were held this year.  The second artefact then illustrates what happens with this feedback, being the annual report  from the 2008/09 academic year, i.e. the feedback from the previous year.  The information from this form is fed back into our teaching for the next instance of the module, so the feedback included here informed the instance of the module being discussed for the disciplinary commons.