Economics Network CHEER Virtual Edition

Volume 12, Issue 1, 1998

The Effect of a Computer-Based Learning (CBL) Support Package on the Learning Outcome of Low-Performance Economics Students

Cher Ping Lim
University of Bristol

Introduction

The support for the use of information technology (IT) to promote school reform appears to be reaching a new high. Government bodies around the world have realized that the strategy to meet the challenges of the 21st century is to formulate a blueprint of the integration of IT into education. However in the rush of development that surrounds new technology, we may be adding a new gloss over old problems. Researchers may scrutinize new computer-based learning (CBL) teaching packages and debate their educational worth, yet fail to consider the context within which they are used (Taylor 1996, p.22).

The focus of the study is to assess the effectiveness of CBL as a support package in Pacific Junior College (PJC) for the low-performance Economics students. PJC is one of the top junior colleges in Singapore. For the purpose of this study, I define an effective support package as one that helps these students enhance their learning outcome. Although this research study might not initiate big changes to learning, teaching and the curriculum, it is likely to promote small and local evolutionary adaptations of CBL in schools.

Background

The Cambridge G.C.E ‘A’ Level Economics offered in junior colleges in Singapore is a very rigorous course that covers a wide range of topics under Microeconomics and Macroeconomics. The main problem facing many Economics students is that they equate knowledge to facts. They are used to a completely ordered educational environment where what is learnt is neatly packed and arranged. All they need to do well in secondary schools is memorizing and reproducing discrete units of ‘information’. However, in the study of Economics, the conception of knowledge is no more absolute. Rather, knowledge is now seen as dynamic and relative (Säljö 1987, p.105). Most Economics students have not experience this particular version of learning before.

A recent report on the performance of G.C.E ‘A’ Level Economics students argues that those who score distinctions are able to “think like economists” (Ministry of Education 1992, p.4). Thinking like an economist includes not only analytical skills but also creative skills, which “help determine how to frame questions, what tools and principles apply to particular problems, what data and information are pertinent to those problems, and how to understand or explain surprising or unexpected results” (Siegfried et al. 1991, p.199).

Low-performance students might have difficulties in aquiring higher-order skills in the cognitive domain, as outlined in Bloom’s taxonomy. Cognitive development follows a sequence from knowledge through comprehension of that knowledge, to its applications in particular situations, to higher order mental skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation (Blease 1986, p.19). Without the necessary cognitive skills, these students might not be able to handle the demand of the examination questions.

Moreover, many of these students are unable to see the relevance of the study of Economics. They find Economics impractical as the “what if” questions cannot be explored as in the case of a scientific experiment. Therefore, many of the students view Economics as dry and dusty and lose their motivation to work on the subject.

It is quite common to hear fellow teachers lamenting their poor fortune in having such low-performance students. Complaints about student shortcomings run the gamut from poor attendance, little or no evidence of interest in class, and a lack of effort in assignments. The most common departmental strategy for addressing these students seems to be massive efforts at mass remedial lessons conducted after classes.

In light of this problem of teaching the low-performance students, I began to search more earnestly for strategies that might directly and effectively address these learning problems. Much of the literature that I have reviewed point to the fact that CBL might help to facilitate the acquisition of the important cognitive skills required for effective economic analysis and evaluation (Ministry of Education 1992, p.1). This initiation might help students appreciate that Economics is not just a collection of facts but a unified approach to thinking about the world (Lumsden and Scott 1986, p.362).

While lectures are important for transmitting information about economic theory, CBL holds the potential to enhance dramatically students’ learning of economic theory (Shlechter 1991, p.12). Macrosimulations, such as Running the British Economy and Be Your Own Chancellor, provide the students with experiences faced by policy-makers. Students are forced to put their understanding of macroeconomics to work in trying to solve these problems. Database programs help students see that the real world is far less organized than what the textbooks have presented, and that exact relationships do not exist. Computer-assisted instruction provides a good base for students to work at their own pace with immediate feedback (Carlson and Schodt 1995, p.24). Animated graphs and flow-charts help the students to better understand the shift of the curves or the relationship between different sectors of the economy (Welford 1986, p.132). Therefore, CBL provides rich opportunities for helping students to move beyond being “problem-set smart” toward ‘thinking like economists’.

These led me to explore the possibilities of using a new Economics educational software, WinEcon (available since 1995), and the worldwide networks of the Internet to enhance the learning outcome of the low-performance Economics students.

Design and Method

This research study attempts to assess the effectiveness of CBL on students’ learning outcome in terms of achieving higher-level objectives in Bloom’s taxonomy, securing the scaffolding for thinking, acquiring problem-solving skills, and experiencing learner autonomy.

Subjects and Setting

The subjects were the 20 lowest performing students in JC One Economics from 4 classes. They were students who could not manage at least a grade ‘E’ for the mid-year examination.(1) The students were designated into two groups: the control group (N=11) and the treatment group (N=9).

The mean of the mid-year examination results for students in the control group (M = 0.64) was not significantly different from the mean for students in the treatment (M = 0.67), t (18) = 0.13, p = 0.9. All possible variations in letter grades were converted into numeric equivalents using a 15 point scale (with F = 0, O = 1, E- = 2, E = 3, E+ = 4, D- = 5, D = 6, D+ = 7, C- = 8, C = 9, C+ = 10, B- = 11, B = 12, B+ = 13, A- = 14, A = 15).

Materials

The CBL support package consisted of the software – WinEcon, relevant websites for completing assignments and a project, and e-mail communication between tutor and students. WinEcon is a unique interactive learning program for teaching introductory undergraduate courses in Economics. The Teaching Learning Technology Program (TLTP) Economics Consortium, a consortium of eight United Kingdom (UK) universities, developed it over a period of three years. The software offers more than 75 hours of tutorial material and includes self-assessment questions and examinations, economic database, an economic glossary and references to leading economic texts.

As WinEcon does not follow exactly the same sequence as the college lectures and readings, there was a need to customize the program, through WinEcon Lecturer, for use in the G.C.E ‘A’ level Economics course. In addition, the students were given a topical checklist with reference to WinEcon chapters. The revision and examination facilities in WinEcon allow the tutor to monitor the progress of the students through WinEcon Lecturer.

The students in the study were also given a list of useful websites where they could obtain their resources for both assignments and project. The list of websites includes Ecedweb, the Economic website that provides support for Economic education in all forms and at all levels; as well as database websites, such as World Bank and Singapore economic statistics. The students were assigned two individual essays and one group project to work on per term. To facilitate student-teacher communication, e-mail addresses were exchanged between both students and tutor.

The CBL support package was administered for 4 terms, from term 3 (1996) to term 2 (1997). The students were required to attend a one-hour CBL support session twice a week.

Procedure

During the course of the study, the control group (N = 11) underwent the traditional approach of remedial lessons used in PJC. The twice-weekly one-hour session would include explanation of key concepts by the tutor, discussion of essay outlines and data-response questions, and clarifying of incorrect answers to multiple-choice questions.

The treatment group (N = 9) were put through the CBL support package. Students worked in threes on WinEcon throughout the 28 weeks of study. In fact, they were also working in the same group for their project. Both the treatment and control group were asked to work on two individual assignments and a group project per term. At the end of study, the students sat for a common final examination.

Data Collection and Analysis

Results from this investigation were explored from several perspectives. We compared the average mid-year letter grade levels to average final grade levels for both treatment and control groups. Differences were investigated between the control and treatment groups with respect to mid-year letter grade and the final letter grade.

The analysis was submitted to 2-samples t-tests with unequal n’s to evaluate differences between means for each group. The research study is interested in whether the scores of the treatment group are reliably higher than those of the control group.

Comments were also obtained on the experience of CBL from the students in the treatment group by conducting a face-to-face interview. The interview schedule is made up of mainly open-ended questions, allowing the interviewer to probe for more depth, clearing up misunderstandings, encoring co-operation and allowing the interviewer to make a truer assessment of what the respondent really believes.

In addition, approximately 10% of the sessions were recorded on audiotape. This is to determine the type of verbal behaviors that occurred during the interpersonal group process when working with computers. Non-verbal behaviors were recorded through my colleague’s observation.

Results

2-samples t-test with unequal n’s

Results demonstrate that students in the control group improved their mean grades from mid-year to final grade by 2.5 grade scale point, while students in the treatment group improved by an average of 5.8 grade scale points. Students in the treatment group thus showed a significantly greater increase in grade performance, t(18) = 2.71, p<0.01, than students in the control group.

Table One: Results of independent-samples t-test

Group

Number
(ni)

Mean
((x-bar)ii)

Standard Deviation (s.d.i)

t-score

Degree of Freedom

One-tailed Significance

Treatment

9

5.78

2.95

2.71

18

0.007

Control

11

2.45

2.54

Inspection of the data reveals that three students in the treatment group beginning the program with a failing grade (F) obtained at least an ‘A’ level pass for their final examination. The other 6 students from the group improved by at least two grade points. In contrast, the students in the control group did not improve as much. To be specific, three students in the control group failed to receive at least an ‘A’ level pass for the final examination. Two of the students did not show any improvement in their grades.

Therefore the results indicate that low-performance students in the CBL support program performed better in Economics as compared to the ones in the traditional remedial program.

Face-to-Face Interview with the Treatment Group

The students in the treatment group were interviewed to obtain comments on their experience of CBL. Responses to the questions revealed positive attitudes of students towards CBL in the learning of Economics. A summary of the responses and a representative sample of the students’ comments, are provided below.

Q1. Do you feel that your performance in Economics has improved in any way as a result of the use of the CBL package? If so, how? If not, why?

All of the nine students interviewed felt that the CBL support package has improved their performance in Economics. Eight of them linked the improvement in performance to their grades in the common tests and examinations. They noted that they were able to identify appropriate economic concepts, theories and models in order to carry out rigorous analysis of economic problems; and thus, were better equipped for the examination. One of them associated the improvement in performance to the increased ability to read critically so as to gain information about the changing economy.

Q2. How has the CBL package helped in the understanding of economic concepts and theories?

Amongst the responses to this question were the clarification of theoretical aspects of the subject, especially of the Law of Diminishing Returns and Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility; a greater awareness of the relevance of the theory to the ‘real world’; and improved confidence in handling the mathematical aspect of Economics.

One of the students shared her experience of how CBL helped her overcome the difficulties in grasping and understanding economic concepts and theories.

“The computer enables formulae, tables of numbers and graphs to be linked readily. Before the CBL support classes, I could not see the relationship between total cost, average cost and marginal cost. WinEcon has allowed me to see the connections between them by changing one representation and seeing changes in the others.”

Q3. Which aspect of the Economics course is most effectively taught by the CBL package? And which one the least?

There were references to the ‘mathematical side’ of the subject and the value of WinEcon in illustrating and practicing this aspect of Economics. Most students felt that the demonstration of the shifts of curves was a definite improvement over anything that could be presented in a book or by a teacher, because of the speed with which the effects of changing variables could be observed.

Although none of the students pointed out a least effective aspect of the CBL package, one student noted that the CBL package would only be effective if it is used with readings and lectures.

Q4. Is the experience of CBL purposeful, meaningful and meeting your needs as a learner? That is, does IT enrich the learning aspects of Economics?

The students were aware that they all learn in their own unique ways. Most of the students recognized that CBL has enriched their learning experience. One student commented:

“CBL gives us a chance to stop thinking like students, programmed to recite answers. It helps illustrate the practical application of theories and, most importantly, the relation between theories and real-world situations. This really makes the study of Economics more purposeful and meaningful. Otherwise, Economics would be so dry and boring.”

Q5. Is the experience of using Internet for projects and assignments largely practical?

All of the students agreed that the Internet enabled them to gain access to a wide variety of additional resources, services and capabilities. The students were able to access electronic bulletin boards and news groups, transfer or download computer files from remote computers, and access an incredible array of information stored in remote databases. Students were aware of the tremendous potential for information sharing based on the world-wide interconnection of computers.

However, two students complained that there was just too much information in the Internet to be of any practical use to their assignments and projects. When asked why they did not make use of the Internet addresses given to them as part of the CBL support package, they said that they were trying to obtain a different set of data and perspectives from the rest of the students in the support program.

Q6. Have you experienced active involvement with the CBL package?

Students were fast to respond to this question as all of them, without doubt, experienced active involvement with the CBL package. One student compared the traditional lecture/tutorial sessions to the CBL support classes.

“Tutorial sessions tend to get long and boring, whereas with computers, it never seems like there is enough time in an hour class. For the WinEcon software, we were constantly required to give our responses to questions. Feedback was provided by the computer instantly. I also felt a sense of accomplishment and power when working with computers, especially extracting and analyzing data from the Internet. These really kept us going especially when our lesson is after lunch.”

Q7. Have you experienced co-operative working situations with your fellow group members or classmates? How have you and your group benefited from such a working relationship?

Eight of the students claimed that they experienced co-operative working situations with their fellow group members. They made positive remarks about the benefits reaped from such a working relationship. The majority of the positive statements had to do with the assistance the partners could provide one another and the opportunities for clarification and discussion. Only one student did not experience co-operative working situation with her group members. Her negative response dealt mostly with the problems of co-operating and keeping on task.

Q8. Has the CBL package given you more freedom? If so, what kind of freedom is it?

All the students claimed that they experienced more freedom in their learning as compared to the traditional method of instruction. The most common responses were:- ‘I am able to learn at my own pace’, ‘there is less time constraint’, ‘I can fast-forward those topics that do not interest me and do research on those that interest me’, and ‘I can discover things by myself’. However, one student was worried that the freedom may lead to certain adverse effect, such as narrowing down on one’s scope of learning.

Q9. Has the CBL package promoted student-teacher discussion? Or has it promoted student-student discussion?

All of the students found that there was definitely more student-student discussion than student-teacher discussion in the CBL support class. Four of them noted that although there was more student-student discussion, there was an increase in student-teacher discussion too. They attributed the increase in communication to the e-mail system.

Q10. In a CBL environment, what do you see the teacher’s role as?

Most of the students noticed a distinct change in the role of the teacher within the CBL environment as compared to the traditional lecture/tutorial system. The students saw the teacher “less as an information dispenser and more as a guide”, “less as an authoritative expert”, “more as a fellow learner who shares information with the others”, and “no longer the fountainhead of information and knowledge”. One student shared her observation about how the change in teacher’s role has encourage her group to think in depth into particularly theories and concepts.

Observation

It was observed that students in the treatment group were very active in asking questions and giving answers among themselves. On average, 1 question was asked every 2.5 minute. Besides asking questions and giving answers to each other, the other verbal behavior that occurred most often in this study was explanations. The students nearly always (95% of the time) received explanations from each other in response to questions. Whenever a student needed help, his/her group members served as a convenient source of assistance. Moreover, students often looked over each other’s shoulders, commenting on each other’s work, offering assistance, and discussing what they were doing.

The use of e-mail increased my interaction with the students. Students who normally felt shy in a classroom setting often felt more comfortable communicating electronically with me. I received an average of two e-mail messages a day from my students in the treatment group. Over the period of thirty weeks, I can identify many occasions in which using e-mail to reach out was successful in stimulating renewed effort in a student who might otherwise have dropped out, either formally or intellectually.

The CBL Support Package and the Achievement of Learning Outcome

Achievement of Higher-level Objectives in Bloom’s Taxonomy

Considering the significant improvement in the treatment group as compared to the control group, CBL in support classes has been shown to assist the low-performance students in efficiently moving up the Bloom’s hierarchy of learning. There are some areas of Economics that are difficult to teach by lecture and discussion – for example, the law of diminishing marginal utilities and the law of diminishing marginal returns. After using the WinEcon software, these students not only managed to understand the interrelationships between these theories and the demand curves and cost curves respectively, but were also able to apply them to various ‘real world’ situations.

Similarly, discussing quite complex empirical studies is much easier if students have struggled with simple data-handling problems with the WinEcon software. The students in the treatment group were analyzing and reorganizing data that they had gathered from the Internet, for their project. They were able to see how the theories they learnt fit into a larger context, revealing insights into certain theories that were not previously recognized. The learning skills acquired through CBL in the support class equipped them with the necessary cognitive skills to improve their performance in the final examination.

These findings support previous research by Lumsden and Scott (1986), Kearsley (1990) and Fontana and his colleagues (1993) that highlight the benefit of CBL in providing the intellectual springboard which meets most of the higher-level learning objectives of the Bloom’s taxonomy.

This study also confirms the findings in the research literature regarding the importance of giving explanations in a small group learning at a computer (Webb et al. 1986; Repman, 1993; Wizer 1995). Explanations are believed to signify a higher level of cognitive processing, which can benefit the student giving the explanation and the one receiving it (Wizer 1995, p.129).

Securing the Scaffolding for Thinking

Under the instructional design of the WinEcon software, students are usually presented with an initial series of rule frames, which have been designed to present the (a) definition of the concept, (b) the list of steps in the procedure, and (c) the statement of relationship between concepts. After these rule frames, the student may either want to view the example frames or the practice frames. The example frames demonstrate the procedure or show an application of the principle while the practice frames allow the students to apply the rule to a specific object or event (Shlechter 1991, p.7).

The WinEcon software also allows them to see the connections between concepts by changing one representation (for example, total variable cost) and seeing changes in the others (e.g. average variable cost, marginal cost and average fixed cost). The effects of changing variables can be observed almost immediately geometrically or mathematically. These serve as ‘scaffolding’ for the students to think with.

Therefore, the instructional design of WinEcon provides the students with the cognitive structures necessary for dealing with abstract environmental relationship. This supports Hallberg’s claim that CBL provides the medium for the students to acquire complex economic concepts, and thus, securing the scaffolding for thinking (Hallberg 1996, p.305).

Acquiring Problem-Solving Skills

Results from the face-to-face interview with the treatment group, have shown that the CBL support package not only helped the students to acquire knowledge and communicate their ideas, but also to solve problems. Although the WinEcon software is not designed specifically to teach and reinforce problem-solving skills, it has been successfully used as part of the CBL support package to promote problem-solving skills among the students in the treatment group.

WinEcon provides the students with a more in-depth understanding of the economic concepts, which are covered in the curriculum, and allows them to see that these concepts are tools for solving real-world problems. For example, one group of students in the treatment group identified inflation as a problem. They first gathered and studied the background factors based on the data that they had collected. The students then brainstormed for potential solutions. With their understanding of the types and causes of inflation and the Phillips Curve, the students pre-valuated the consequences of each potential solution. A solution was then decided using cost-benefit analysis. This approach taken by the students is a general-purpose approach to problem solving (Kahney 1986, p.8).

Therefore, a problem solving approach enables students to generate solutions to novel problems. It is obvious that problem solving is more than the simple application of previously learned rule to a set of problems known to be within its domain. The solution of a novel problem requires the discovery of a new higher-order rule (which can be a combination of previously learned rules). The students were exposed to various economic problems, which they had not previously encountered, based on the real-world data that they collected. They were then expected to suggest solutions to the problem that they identified. Such a process develops the students’ problem solving skills.

Experiencing Learner Autonomy

In the CBL support class, the control of learning shifted from the teacher to the learner, but in a way that was facilitated by the teacher. The students felt that decision making was in their hands, and that they were in control. In contrast to traditional method of instruction, the CBL support package gives students the opportunity to determine when instruction will occur and at what pace. That is, students can set the pace of instruction and work through the course content at a rate commensurate with their ability. The students have the option to repeat portions when necessary or desired, and to change the speed at which they progress through the unit. Such autonomy for the students represents an attempt to adapt instruction to individual differences thereby gaining efficiency while at the same time ensuring achievement (Semb et al. 1991, p.122).

With the movement towards a more student-centered approach, the culture of the treatment group began to be dominated by the search for explanation, justification and proof of various concepts and theories discussed in class. The culture was explicit, explicated and understood. Such contexts open up the possibility of thinking about evidence, argument and justification (Povey 1997, p.113).

The CBL Support Package and its Limitations

It is important to stress that any medium has its limitations, and there are indeed distinct limitations with the CBL support package.

Theory-Orientation

As compared to traditional instruction, the CBL support class is less theory-oriented, in terms of the number of models presented and the level of technical sophistication at which the theories are taught. Although the students in the treatment group have a powerful understanding of the fundamental insights and basic mechanics of some central ideas in economic theory, and are able to apply it to the analysis of economic policy or problem, their understanding of the models themselves are less thorough and detailed.

Therefore, it is vital that the CBL support package should complement the lecture/tutorial system, as well as the reading. This would ensure that the students have a good understanding of the process of theoretical modeling, or of the relationship between assumptions and implications in economic theory (Velenchik 1995, p.37).

Time

Teachers need to spend a great deal of time familiarizing themselves with the hardware and software before they can plan and conduct proper CBL lessons. It is crucial that the teachers have an understanding of the pedagogical principles behind the software. It may take the course of a whole school year before a CBL package becomes ‘built in’ to the department curriculum or a scheme of work.

The students also need time to get to grips with the CBL support package. The teacher needs to spend a considerable amount of time explaining technical procedures such as logging on, navigating through the program or website and saving work. Time is also needed for students to be acquainted to the computers, software, and Internet.

Attitude of Teachers

Not all teachers have been so enthusiastic about using computers and the introduction of computers has often been met with indifference - if not hostility - by some of them. Many teachers still favor the traditional whole-class method of information delivery. Teachers must cope with curriculum demands, standardized testing requirements and strictly defined blocks of instructional time. Moreover, teachers who have established reliable instructional routines may balk at the prospect of using a CBL support package. Lacking training and experience, such teachers find it difficult to imagine, much less plan for, using new technologies when they expect all students to proceed through the same content at the same pace.

Access to Physical Resources

Hardware and software are needed for the successful implementation of the CBL support package. The computers in most colleges are mainly placed in a ‘computer room’ that is frequently associated as a place ‘to do computing’. There are only a few computers that are available in the college libraries. This inevitably places a restriction on the use of IT across the college (Scaife and Wellington 1993, p.95). Many teachers might find a great interest and willingness to be involved, but they often feel reluctant to do anything about it until they feel that the resources are definitely available.

Technical expertise is also needed to maintain technology, support the software, and provide substantive advice. Teachers are not technicians and should not be expected to troubleshoot and repair computers. Computers need repair, and it is up to the college to provide timely maintenance. If a teacher is scheduled to take a class to the computer laboratory and several computers are down, a logistical and pedagogical nightmare will occur (Mandinach and Cline 1996, p.98).

The commentary on the limitations of the CBL support package is not meant to be an indictment of the existing educational system. It is meant to accentuate a discouraging situation that can be remedied by careful planning. To reap the full benefits of the CBL support package, the limitations of the package must be tackled.

Recommendations

Careful planning is needed to overcome the limitations. The successful introduction of the CBL support package into the Economics curriculum in PJC must be a process of accommodation and assimilation.

Firstly, the deployment and management of physical resources. It is necessary that the IT equipment should be placed where it is most likely to be used. Some plans for the college may include: setting up tutorial classrooms with network access points for CBL lessons; distributing the computers with Internet access throughout the college; providing computer notebooks on loan for students to work in college and at home; and providing facilities and accessories, such as trolleys, to make the computer more readily available to the busy classroom teacher and to reduce setting-up time.

A file can be designed (to be given to each teacher) which incorporates all that a teacher needs to know about using the CBL support package in the college. The file should include a master timetable for the use of the computer laboratory, layout of the computer laboratory, inventory list of software titles acquired and summary of lesson plans (Lancaster 1990, p.83).

Secondly, the management of people and their attitudes is as important as the management of physical resources. Indeed, the people of an institution such as a college are its most expensive and its most valuable resource (Scaife and Wellington 1993, p.93). Training teachers to use IT in the college is the foundation upon which a successful human resource plan rests (Persky 1990, p.34). Small group and individual sessions spread out over time will be more effective than the one-off workshop. Just like students, each teacher will learn differently. The nature of acquiring computer literacy requires ‘a guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage’ (Haubrich 1996, p.22). Teachers will learn best how to use a computer program if someone helps them to prepare documents they will actually use.

Only when staff development is made a primary focus of the human resource plan, can access to technology, time to practise the technology and opportunities for colleague assistance intermingle to produce the impetus for teachers to adopt IT.

Thirdly, there is a need for collaboration among teachers and with other organizations. The time and effort that is spent to design a successful CBL support package are indeed formidable. Therefore, it is necessary for teachers to work collaboratively among themselves. Teachers who have become experts in the use of CBL support package and have integrated it into their curriculum with favorable outcomes should share their expertise with the other teachers. Teachers can also form working task groups that can share the best of what they know to improve the CBL support package (McCombs 1991, p.305).

Moreover, teachers should work collaboratively with professional organizations, business and higher education institutions in the development and refinement of software. Together, they can analyze the needs of the students within the context of the classroom, the existing system, and then, in light of a new system that can better fit these needs. Problems can be identified before they become disasters. These would enhance the quality of the resulting product (Reaves 1991, p.73).

Although not all of the problems outlined can be solved, these recommendations would definitely bring about a more desirable learning outcome.

Conclusion

The purpose of this study is not to show whether CBL is better than conventional methods of teaching, but rather to conduct an evaluation of the CBL support package that I have designed. Such evaluation would help ensure that the package enhances the learning outcome of the target group (low-performance students).

Although the research findings have to be interpreted cautiously because of the small sample size, the evidence does, on balance, support the argument that: CBL in support classes, while no panacea for all that may ail contemporary instruction in Economics, does appear to offer an important strategy for enhancing the learning outcome among the low-performance students in the discipline. It can be a powerful addition to the toolkit the tutor brings to the classroom. The CBL support package provides a means for active engagement of students with their learning, for having them do Economics and, ultimately, for helping them learn how to think like economists.

Therefore, the causal empiricism here suggests that a successful CBL Economics package needs to reach the higher levels of Bloom’s hierarchy, meet requirements of real life, fast feedback, hypothesis testing, and learning by doing – while providing additional dimensions to teaching. It is also possible that there are other relevant characteristics that have not been included in the discussion.

Future Research

Future research should continue to investigate the effect of CBL in classrooms. This will allow educators and software developers to better understand the effect of CBL on Economics education. Advances should be based on the realities of teaching and the needs of the students.

Further research should also look into the long term outcomes as a result of the CBL treatment (McKenna 1995, p.4). One of the constraints of this study is the novelty effect. By doing the study over a longer period of time, the reliability of the results might be enhanced. There is also a need to attempt to discover a range of unanticipated student learning and development outcomes.

To respond to the requirements of different teachers using CBL packages in the classrooms, there is a necessity for research on the outcome of teacher technology training: the characteristics of participants, program content, teaching strategies, and follow-up activities (Morrison 1993, p.3).

Finally, there is a need to more extensive study on the blending of CBL and co-operative learning approaches in terms of their impact in specific content areas, with students of different ages and social groups. It is crucial to identify the factors that encourage or discourage co-operation in a CBL environment (Crooks et al. 1996, p125).

Such research will help to address the fears of Romiszowski (1993), that technology is leading education in directions that may not be pedagogically ideal but which happen to be economically or politically expedient (McKenna 1995, p.5). This research study has shown that the CBL support package leads to the achievement of learning outcome. However, “there is a world of difference between what computers can do and what society will choose to do with them” (Povey 1997, p.117). Whether or not CBL can be successfully implemented in schools to reap its fullest potential will depend in part on a willingness and ability to exploit the opportunities that are available.

Note: The author may be contacted at The Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, 35 Berkeley Square, Bristol BS8 1JA.

Tel: +44(117) 928 9000 or +44 468780800
Fax: +44(117) 925 1537
E-mail: C.P.Lim@bristol.ac.uk

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(1) Grade E is the minimum grade to ensure an ‘Advanced’ Level pass. A fail is either a grade ‘F’ or ‘O’. However, the ‘O’ grade is one level above ‘F’ as the former represents a pass at ‘Ordinary’ Level.





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