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Optional Projects in the Database Course: Implications for Student Performance in Oracle


Projects are a common component in the database course in MIS curricula. A project normally requires students to define and manipulate a database in a commercially available DBMS such as Microsoft Access and/or Oracle. This paper examines the role of such projects in the database course, specifically when the project is optional and not counted in the student’s course grade. The course is described and implications for student performance are examined.


Figure 1. Database Development Process

Figure 1. Database Development Process

Oracle’s Database Server and Microsoft Access are used to illustrate these concepts. Database design is illustrated through GD-Pro for UML class diagrams and Oracle Designer for entity-relationship diagrams. The current database textbook is Kroenke’s Database Processing. Database development progresses from conceptual data modeling to logical database design to physical database implementation, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 2. Database Course Sequence

Figure 2. Database Course Sequence

As illustrated in Figure 2, the sequence of topics differs from that of the database development process (and that found in most database textbooks). Rather than proceeding from abstract data modeling to concrete DBMS specification as actually occurs in database implementation, MS Access is introduced very early in the course. Its ease of use and seeming “simplicity” allow students to more readily grasp relational data model concepts by way of concrete examples.


Figure 3. Quartile Ranking vs. Project Completion

Figure 3. Quartile Ranking vs. Project Completion

To date 137 students in 4 classes (2 BBA and 2 MBA) have completed the database course under optional projects. A summary of those who completed Access or Oracle projects, based upon their quartile ranking, is shown in Figure 3.


The participation of students in the optional projects has been disappointing. Only 78 out of 137 students (57%) have completed the Access project, while even fewer, 43 out of 137 (31%), have completed the Oracle project. It is difficult to as certain cause and effect in this limited data analysis. Clearly those students ranking in the top quartile are more likely to complete one project or the other. Those in the lowest quartile are least likely to do so. Further analysis is required to answer the question of whether such a phenomenon merely reflects good students doing the work or whether completion of the project is a causal factor in determining a student’s performance.

The “Big Bang” project due dates, with the en tire Access or Oracle project due on a designated deadline, may give students too much opportunity to procrastinate. This procrastination, coupled with the optional grade associated with the project, may contribute to the failure of many students to complete the project. While studies have shown that people are willing to set self-imposed deadlines to help curb their tendency to procrastinate, these self-imposed deadlines are not as effective as externally imposed deadlines in improving task performance. Instructor imposed deadlines for a required project, particularly involving interim due dates, may be a more effective means of insuring active student learning through project participation.

The reuse of the project’s specification has permitted its extension in several, beneficial ways. The project has been recently integrated with the Personal Software Process (PSP) to introduce the discipline of structured software development practices. This allows the students to better plan, track, and analyze their development activities and should lead to higher quality database projects. The database project is also being refined into a series of step-wise exercises, in order to promote cyclic development in conjunction with PSP software management techniques. The introduction of a series of interim due dates should also serve to more fully curb students’ procrastination instincts. Finally, plans are underway to extend the project in the BBA classes to include Java programming and JDBC connectivity to the Oracle database.

Source: University of New Mexico
Author: William I. Bullers

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