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Integrating Challenge Based Learning Into a Smart Learning Environment: Findings From a Mobile Application Development Course


Abstract and Figures

Training students on mobile application development inherits the challenges of teaching software engineering where the target computer is a device that has a large number of features accessible by software. Furthermore, the most related experience in teaching students reveals difficulties in developing software engineering competencies. In this paper we present results from an iOS course held in a Smart Learning Environment that adopted the Challenge Based Learning framework as the teaching methodology. Our results indicate that combining an active methodology along with an engaging environment can foster and improve software development learning.
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Integrating Challenge Based Learning Into a Smart
Learning Environment: Findings From a Mobile
Application Development Course
Rafael Chanin, Alan R. Santos, Nicolas Nascimento, Afonso Sales, Leandro Pompermaier and Rafael Prikladnicki
Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, School of Technology
Av. Ipiranga 6681, Porto Alegre, Brazil, CEP: 90619-900
{rafael.chanin, alan.santos, nicolas.nascimento, afonso.sales, leandro.pompermaier, rafaelp}
Abstract—Training students on mobile application develop-
ment inherits the challenges of teaching software engineering
where the target computer is a device that has a large number
of features accessible by software. Furthermore, the most related
experience in teaching students reveals difficulties in developing
software engineering competencies. In this paper we present
results from an iOS course held in a smart learning environment
that adopted the Challenge Based Learning framework as the
teaching methodology. Our results indicate that combining an
active methodology along with an engaging environment can
foster and improve software development learning.
KeywordsSmart Learning Environments, Challenge Based
Learning, Mobile Software Development, Teaching.
Active learning methodologies like Problem-Based Learn-
ing, Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Challenge Based
Learning (CBL) engage students and improve their perfor-
mance. These approaches moves students to a different role
when compared to traditional classes, engaging students in real
problems [6]. In this study, we focus on the use of CBL in a
smart learning environment. CBL enables students to conduct
research by integrating practices with theory and application
of knowledge and skills, such as collaboration and problem
solving, and taking action in the community context [5].
Moreover, the educational context is changing due to the
advancements in technology [4]. Tradicional classes, often
perceive as formal, passive, and not engaging, have been
slowly replaced by student-centric approaches. This new way
of perceiving education, combining active methodologies,
technology and modern infrastructure has led to the creation
of the term “Smart Lerning Environments” [3].
In this sense, this paper presents findings from a 6-weeks
mobile application development course that uses CBL as a
teaching methodology. Our preliminary results indicate that
applying a pro-active pedagogy framework that fosters col-
laboration and personalized learning within a smart learning
environment can be beneficial to students.
The remainder of this paper is organized as follows.
Section II presents the background on smart learning en-
DOI reference number: 10.18293/SEKE2018-058
vironments. In Section III the concept of Challenge Based
Learning is explained and, in Section IV, we describe the
mobile application course in detail. Section V depicts the
methodology used in this research. In Section VI we present
our preliminary results and, finally, we draw our conclusion
and future works in Section VII.
There are several definitions for Smart Learning Environ-
ments (SLE) in the literature. However, in the context of this
paper, we use the one from Koper [3], which is “physical
environments that are enriched with digital, context-aware
and adaptive devices, to promote better and faster learning”.
Even though the word “smart” relates to the use of smart
technologies, the main goal of a SLE is to provide learning
guidance and all the necessary infrastructure to make the
learning process effective, efficient and engaging [2].
One of the main goals of a SLE is to meet the educational
needs from current students. Tradicional classes, in which
instructors are in the center of the process and students do
not actively participate, have been replaced by approaches that
foster collaboration, action and engagement. However, in order
to effectively implement this change, not only the physical
environment needs to be adapted, but also instructors need to
put in place a different teaching methodology [4].
In this new context, instructors are no longer the only
source of knowledge. Similarly, students are not only knowl-
edge consumers. In fact, the roles of instructors and students
may become less distinct and could be interchangeable [4].
Experiential learning is the source of a variety of learning
frameworks that are used all over the world. Problem-Based
Learning, Project-Based Learning, Task-Based Learning and
Challenge Based Learning are just a few examples of these
frameworks. “The foundations of experiential learning can be
found within the history of most cultures, but were formally
organized and presented by David Kolb drawing heavily on
the works of John Dewey and Jean Piaget” [6]. Challenge
Based Learning (CBL) [5] is a learning framework based on
solving real world challenges.
The CBL process begins with the definition of a big idea,
which is a broad concept that can be explored in several ways.
The big idea has to be engaging and important to students
and society. Once the big idea is chosen and the essential
question is created, the challenge is defined. From this point,
students must come up with the guiding questions and guiding
activities and resources, which will guide them to develop a
successful solution. The next step is analysis, which will set the
foundation for the definition of the solution. Once the solution
is agreed upon, the implementation begins. Finally, evaluation
is undertaken in order to check out the whole process and
verify if the solution can be refined.
The course curriculum applied in this work can be divided
into two portions: iOS Programming and User Experience.
All participants received CBL training and were required to
dedicate 20 hours per week during six weeks. The learning was
facilitated by instructors, which had different levels of industry
and academic experience. All instructors had previous iOS
development training and CBL training, and more than four
years experience. In addition, the course was held in a smart
learning environment, which provided not only all necessary
equipment, but also a modern infrastructure that allow students
to be creative and comfortable during the learning process.
Class Activities Deliverable
1 Equipment assignment to students. Student’s and
Instructors presentations. Quick introduction to
important tools and shortcuts.
2 Introduction to Coding, Introduction to Story-
boards, UILabel and UIButton.
3 UIView, UIViewController and the Model-View-
Controller (MVC) paradigm.
4 Introduction to UX (User-Experience) in iOS, Per-
sonas and Paper Prototyping.
5 UIImageView, UIPicker, UIDatePicker. Exercise
6 Navigation using multiple ViewControllers,
UINavigationController and UITabBarController.
7 UISlider and UIScrollView. Exercise
8 Challenge Based Learning. CBL Process Do-
9 AutoLayout. Exercise
10 UITableView and Nano-Challenge. None
11 Nano-Challenge Development and Deliver. Nano-Challenge
12 UserDefaults and CoreData. Exercise
13 Design Guidelines. Exercise
14 MapKit. Exercise
15 Mini-Challenge - Engage. None
16-17 Mini-Challenge - Investigate. None
18-29 Mini-Challenge - Act. None
30 Mini-Challenge Presentations. Mini-Challenge
Solution Keynote,
The deliverables described in Table I are related to items
used for students development and assessment as described by
Nichols et al. [5]:
Reflection: It is a video, audio or text file where
students reflect on the content and on the process. As
described in [5]: “Much of the deepest learning takes
place by considering the process, thinking about one’s
learning, and analyzing ongoing relationships between
the content and concepts..
Exercise: Students are encourage to follow a devel-
opment rule (such as using a specific framework) but
are free to increment the solution and to develop it.
CBL Documentation: During the course, learners
produce contents using text, video, audio and pictures.
These artifacts are helpful, as they expose information
of the learning process. These can serve many uses,
such as reflections, assessments, evidence of learning,
portfolios and for telling the story of their challenges.
Nano-Challenge: One type of CBL activity. These
are shorter in length, focused on a particular content
area or skill, have tight boundaries and are guided by
the instructor. Both Big Idea and Essential Question
are provided to the students. The process includes
some level of investigation, but at a lower level of
intensity and often stop short of implementation with
an external audience.
Mini-Challenge: Another type of CBL activity. It has
a longer duration (2-4 weeks) and allows learners
to start with a Big Idea and work using the entire
framework. The research depth and the reach of their
solutions increases and the focus can be content spe-
cific or multidisciplinary. Mini-Challenges are good
for intense learning experiences that stretch learners
and prepare them for longer challenges.
The research methodology for this study was based on a
process proposed by Eisenhardt [1]. The proposed research
question was: “Can mobile application development be more
effectively learn if taught in a smart learning environment
using an active methodology, such as Challenge Based Learn-
ing?”. The rationale behind this question was to find out
whether students can take advantage of the environment as
well as of the methodology in order to better learn the content.
A. Data Collection & Analysis
Throughout the course, we collected several data regarding
students deliverables. In addition, we conducted a survey
with all students that have completed the course described
in Section IV. In total, 25 students were interviewed. All
questions were open-ended and focused on the following
areas: (i) teaching environment; (ii) teaching methodology; (iii)
content; and (iv) instructors.
Once all data was collected, we grouped and categorized
the information. It is important to point out that part of our
evaluation was based on data collected from students. In order
to mitigate eventual flaws during data collection, the interviews
were conducted by two people that did not directly participate
in the course.
We found indicatives that the combination of an innovative
environment with an active learning methodology was key to
the success of the course. Students felt engaged and motivated
to learn and even to go beyond the course content.
Regarding the environment, 90% of the students empha-
sized how impressed they were when they first enter the
classroom. The infrastructure, a coworking space equipped
with comfortable and adjustable chairs and tables and several
spaces to brainstorm and to sketch ideas, not only provided
everything students needed, but it was also inspiring.
One key point the final survey allowed us to perceive was
regarding the teaching methodology. Some of the students
reported feeling uncomfortable with the dynamics used in class
at first, as the lecturing (where the instructor would present the
content) was not long and the students were quickly given a
challenge. However, as the course progressed, they understood
that this approach was beneficial, as they reported being more
engaged with the content.
None of the students knew Challenge Based Learning prior
to the course. Nonetheless, all of them pointed out that the
methodology was key to keep them focused and engaged
throughout the course. Several students, however, mentioned
that the methodology could have been introduced in the first
week of the course. As can be noticed in Table I, CBL was
only presented to students on the 8th class.
The Mini-Challenge delivered and presented at the end
of the course proved (according to the evaluation of the
instructors) that students learned the content. Even though
some students mentioned that having one or two more weeks
would be beneficial to the learning process, they were all able
to create a complete mobile application, with some having
developed features that were not even covered during classes,
such as Speech Recognition.
Regarding the instructors, 50% of the students pointed out
that the different teaching styles was a problem. For example,
while one instructor explained a specific content in detail,
the other chose to give just a quick overview and then let
students search for other information. In total, four instructors
participated in the course. It became clear that it was not
necessary to have that many instructors in this course.
Another set of data collected was students’ deliverables.
ADelivered task (85%) is one that is completed in terms
of scope, quality and deadline. A Partially Delivered task
(2%) is one that fail in scope, quality or deadline. Finally,
aNot Delivered task (13%) is one that was not delivered. The
evaluation for each task was made by at least two instructors.
This information was somehow intriguing to the authors,
since they understood that having 13% of the tasks not deliv-
ered was too much. By analysing task by task (see Fig. 1) it can
be seen that tasks 10 and 11 are the outliers. By talking to the
instructors, we found out that since students were performing
really well, they decided to raise the bar after task 9. It turned
out that almost half of the students were not able even to
partially deliver these challenges.
A lesson learned about this approach is that to push
students in order to see where they can get can be good.
However, this needs to be strategically done in order not to
disengage students. For instance, a given challenge can have
three different achievement levels (for example, bronze, silver
and gold). By doing so, not only instructors can measure how
far students can go, but it also keeps students motivated into
achieving the highest level.
Fig. 1. Deliverables During the Course
The traditional educational landscape is changing to a more
pro-active and collaborative one. In this scenario, instructors
also need to adapt themselves in order to better help students
throughout the learning process.
This work presented a case study that represents this new
trend. We provided findings from a mobile application devel-
opment course that took advantage of a modern environment,
new technologies, and a pro-active teaching methodology -
Challenge Based Learning. Our results, although preliminary,
reveal that students in fact learn and engage more when they
are put in the center of the learning process. Moreover, the use
of challenges kept students motivated to find solutions, which
makes the learning process more fun and less tedious.
As future work we intend to monitor and evaluate more
courses in similar contexts that the one presented in this paper.
In addition, we are planning to extend the duration of the
course from six to eight weeks in order to give more time
for the students to practice the concepts learned as well as
more time in the Mini-Challenge activity to develop a more
robust mobile application.
This project is partially funded by FAPERGS, project
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[3] R. Koper. Conditions for effective smart learning environments. Smart
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