The ongoing pandemic has increased the need for various online teaching platforms. The interest for various functionality, which may have not been as widely previously, has also grown in the new situation. For this reason, it was decided that having online tools for the purpose of practicing the use of SQL would benefit students.
Authors: Tram Nguyen and Aki Vainio
During the Covid-19 global pandemic, the usage of online platforms like Moodle to deliver lessons and the need for high-quality online courses have grown. Thus, it is important to utilize the various functionalities of the current platform effectively in generating an environment that boosts users’ learning experience.
SQL, abbreviated from structured query language, is a widely used standardized computer language designed for communicating with relational databases. While different database systems often have slight differences in the implementation of the language and recent developments in database systems have somewhat lessened it’s importance, understanding SQL is still a key skill for software developers (Babu 2018).
Moodle and VPL
Moodle is a well-known e-learning platform that allows educators to create lessons and instructional resources, while learners can adopt lessons and interact with educating activities via the Internet. The name is the abbreviation of Modular Object-Oriented Learning Environment. In order to support the modular object-orientation, the platform provides a variety of utilities that are easy-to-handle, compatible, and secure with no licensing fees and strong supporting community. (Moodle 2020.)
VPL is one outstanding tool among the pool when it comes to programming language courses. VPL stands for Virtual Programming Lab. It provides a virtual environment for students to conduct programming assignments in the browser. Additionally, the tool also enables the instructors to customize task settings such as restrictions and copyright protection. (VPL 2020.)
VPL has many aspects which are beneficial for programming courses. Primarily, users can implement the coding tasks faster and without external utilities such as code editor or a complicated environment. Additionally, thanks to the support for a variety of programming languages, users are exposed to diverse programming courses. One of the most interesting features of the tool is the grading system. The system allows users to receive feedback on their tasks in real-time.
Like users, teachers can benefit from the tool by making use of the functionalities. For those teachers who manage a massive amount of student-submitted files and documents, VPL is an alternative for better file management as the submissions can be graded automatically based on the preset conditions. Equipping preset results for programming tasks’ automatic evaluation contributes to great experience not only for learners but also for instructors. Besides the main functionalities, instructors can customize various options to fit the course purposes such as deadlines, authorship controls (to prevent copy-paste from different sources), and submission limits.
Case study – SQL
Due to the Covid-19 situation worldwide, the demand for efficiency in online courses is stronger than ever. In order to better understand the benefits of VPL in teaching and learning programming languages, a tool was researched and implemented for an SQL course for use in the Business Unit (Nguyen 2020).
SQL is an important skill required in different industries. In IT and Computing fields, SQL is the top language for database manipulation used worldwide since the 1970s. The influence of the language also expands to the mobile market as the two biggest mobile operating systems (Android and iOS) support its usage. Besides fields related to technology, SQL is used in business operations such as online transaction and analytics. Thanks to the productiveness and competitiveness in the market, SQL has become one of the most desired skills in the job market. (Babu 2018.)
As powerful as it is, SQL is an easy-to-acquire language thanks to three reasons. Firstly, compared to many other computer languages, the language is close to English, which makes the learning process easier for those who are new to programming. For example, an SQL query can contain keywords such as SELECT, FROM, WHICH, and GROUP BY. Secondly, SQL is an open-source language, which creates opportunities for learners to approach the language and build a strong community. Lastly, the available resources for the skill are abundant in different media, especially online materials.
VPL provides quick setup for users to start to learn the SQL statements without going through installation of an environment. Although installation and database customization are important parts of SQL, this approach of VPL is especially suitable for learners who want to experience the language before making the decision to continue with it.
Students can work on databases provided by the instructors and follow the task requirements. Working this way enable synchronized workflow between students’ implementation and instructors’ expectation, and predictable results for the automatic evaluations.
Like other computer language courses, VPL helps to boost users’ learning experience. Learners can easily test their statements with the provided database on the online workspace as well as possibly get graded and commented on the preset automatic evaluation.
Image 1. A successfully passed SQL exercise (Tram Nguyen 2020)
While the current pandemic has hastened the process of emphasizing online content on courses, the trio of LAB campuses, two of which have IT programs, would have eventually produced such tools. In fact, there had been plans for such tools previously, but such efforts had been of secondary priority.
Contact lessons have their strengths as well. Interacting with a teacher in person can enhance learning greatly, but programming is in many ways a craft, which can’t be learned without repetition. Online tools can provide easy opportunities for such repetition, where a student can test different solutions at their own pace and based on their own needs, which affords the teacher flexibility on how to construct their courses.
Babu, A. 2018. Structured Query Language- Importance of learning SQL. Coding Sight. [Cited 1 August 2020]. Available at: https://codingsight.com/structured-query-language-importance-of-learning-sql/
Moodle 2020. About Moodle. [Cited 1 August 2020]. Available at: https://docs.moodle.org/38/en/About_Moodle
Nguyen, T. 2020. Improving an Online Course for SQL Learners in LAB University of Applied Sciences: Making use of MOOC for efficient course. Bachelor’s thesis. LAB University of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Business and Hospitality Management. [Cited 29 September 2020]. Available at: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2020052814750
VPL. 2020. Features. [Cited 3 August 2020]. Available at: https://vpl.dis.ulpgc.es/index.php/about/features
Tram Nguyen is a student of Business Information Technology at LAB.
Aki Vainio is a senior lecturer of Information Technology at LAB.
Illustration: https://pxhere.com/en/photo/910704 (CC0)
Reference to this article
Nguyen, T. & Vainio, A. 2020. Applying VPL for SQL on a Moodle platform. LAB Pro. [Cited and date of citation]. Available at: https://www.labopen.fi/lab-pro/applying-vpl-for-sql-on-a-moodle-platform/