Using Design Alternatives to Learn About Data Organizations

Xingjian Gu, Max A. Heller, Stella Li, Yanyan Ren, Kathi Fisler, Shriram Krishnamurthi

SIGCSE International Computing Education Research Conference, 2020


Data that correspond to real-world scenarios can often be organized in several different ways in a database or program. Appreciating the differences between them and choosing an organization that addresses a system’s needs are valuable and necessary computing skills. Unfortunately, little of the computing-education literature seems to deal with this topic.

In this paper we consider a technique for getting students to engage with this issue, grounded in theories of examples and differences. Instead of presenting a single organization, we present a pair of organizations and ask students to contrast them. Students then interact directly with the two organizations in a reflection step, which is followed by a further round of contrasting.

Our data show that even novice college students can handle this task fairly well. They are able to find many crucial differences (especially in terms of access and update operations), but also miss some (especially performance and privacy). These data suggest that this is a useful technique to pursue further, and also point to areas where students may need more instructional support.


See a short video introducing the work!



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