Document Type

Publication - Article


Introducing Database Normal Forms to Students: A Comparison Between Theory-First and Practice-First Educational Approaches



Date of Activity

Winter 10-21-2022


Educating the future generation of computer scientists and engineers often proves to be challenging, and how the content is introduced plays a large role in how well students will learn. One of the primary challenges that instructors face is regarding the introduction of important theory to students, both to show its essential nature to the field as well as its practicality. This paper analyzes two pedagogical methods for the instruction of normal forms in database management systems, a mandatory topic in any database course. The first of these methods is a theory-based approach that relies on written works (i.e., theory) to introduce the concept. The second of these focuses on a practice-based approach (i.e., practice) which aligns with the normal form as students implement a database schema. Through a small study, it was determined that most students have a strong predisposition to theory-first education, though students seemed to prefer the practice-based approach more than the theory-first approach. This paper compares the two methodologies, given this insight, and advises the use of an appropriate method for future educators.

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