Big Data Technology - Can We Abandon The Teaching of Normalisation?

Bernadette Byrne, David Nelson, Renuga Jayakumar

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

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Relational databases have been the mainstay of traditional data processing since the mid 1980s. Schools in the United Kingdom (UK) teach relational databases using the Microsoft Access database and the topic is assessed by the main examining bodies. In many Universities in the UK the undergraduate practical teaching of Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) is carried out using the Oracle Database Management System (DBMS). Modelling for Relational Databases has a well-established process. Databases using the relational model of data traditionally use normalisation to decide on a suitable set of data structures to implement in the target relational database.

Relational databases have been successful partly due to their user-friendly query language – Structured Query Language (SQL), and because they had other advantages over the other large databases which were prevalent at the time. Today we can give students an SQL workbook in a laboratory session and they can learn and achieve much in an hour with no 3GL programming skills necessary, a big advantage over non-relational systems.

In recent years we have seen the advent of Big Data, NoSQL databases and so called “schemaless” (or unstructured) databases. Schemaless gives the impression that the conceptual and logical design levels are not necessary and NoSQL (which is actually an abbreviation for Not Only SQL) gives the impression that the SQL query language is redundant.

In this paper we will compare the data structures of a traditional relational database with a document based schemaless database (MongoDB) at the logical and physical database design stage. We will use the traditional concepts of the data definition language, data manipulation language and data control language of both types of database. We also compare the query languages and the purposes of both types of databases. We will answer the question in the title of the paper “Big Data Technology – can we abandon the teaching of Normalisation?”, in order to consider how we can ensure that these new technologies are as effectively embedded into the curriculum for university teaching and learning as they have been for relational databases.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEduLearn 17 Proceedings
Subtitle of host publication9th International Conference On Education and New Learning Technologies
EditorsL. Gomez Chova, A. Lopez Martinez, I. Candel Torres
PublisherInternational Association of Technology, Education and Development (IATED)
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9788469737774
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2017
Event9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies - Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 3 Jul 20175 Jul 2017
Conference number: 9


Conference9th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Abbreviated titleEDULEARN2017
Internet address


  • Normalisation.
  • Big Data
  • Relational Databases
  • NoSQL
  • MongoDB
  • SQL
  • Schemaless Databases


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