This evidence-based practice paper will analyze a redesign of the foundational computing curriculum that most freshmen in an engineering school will complete. Engineering curricula across all disciplines now require the ability to deploy computing within engineering practice, to develop new computational tools, and to leverage computational analysis as a means of advancing discovery and deepening fundamental understanding. This trend has led to a significant increase in the number of students taking computing courses, not just in Computer Science (CS) but in other departments as well. Traditionally students of various disciplines have been introduced to computing through courses taught within the discipline of CS. Some engineering departments believe it is best to introduce their students to computing within a disciplinary context, and therefore, have developed their own introductory computing courses. The concern with this proliferation of computing courses is that curricula across departments are not often aligned, which may require students to take multiple introductory computing courses if they switch majors. In addition, these courses are often taught using strategies that do not represent pedagogical best practices.
A large private university addressed this problem of poor alignment by conducting a curriculum mapping exercise to standardize learning objectives and assessment strategies across foundational computing courses that span multiple programming languages that are usually taken during the first-year of an engineering curriculum. A secondary goal was to integrate more active-learning strategies into these courses. A comparative analysis of the change in teaching approaches between the previously taught and redesigned courses is the focus of the proposed paper.
The proposed paper will identify differences in student learning and perspectives between the traditional Introductory Programming in JAVA course and a redesigned version titled, Gateway Computing: JAVA. The traditional and new courses are both currently taught in the Fall 2018 semester. This provides an opportunity to compare student perspectives and learning in highly aligned courses taught with different pedagogical strategies.
The Introductory Programming in JAVA course uses a traditional lecture approach with project-based assignments students complete outside of class meetings. The new Gateway Computing: JAVA course uses the flipped method. Students watch online lectures recorded by faculty from multiple departments and complete readings and activities available in an interactive textbook. Students complete programming exercises during class meetings to apply the content learned at home under the guidance of an instructor and course assistants. To maximize time for active-learning exercises in class, the faculty evaluate student learning through self-paced homework assignments outside of class meetings as well as proctored assessments that students self-schedule to take at the campus computer lab each week.
Gateway Computing: JAVA was the first course to adopt the new curriculum reviewed by a team of faculty. The flipped course approach reflects evidence-based teaching strategies. For example, the online quizzes and problems assigned through the interactive textbook were designed to prime students for in-class activities. The faculty schedule the lectures and prep-work to distribute student effort over time to discourage students from “cramming” content during short periods. Finally, giving students the option to re-take assessments on which they have scored poorly encourages them to work to build proficiency in course concepts, even if these concepts were initially difficult to grasp.
The Second CS1 Assessment Concept Inventory will be used to compare student learning between the two courses. It is hypothesized that students in the new Gateway Computing course will learn more because of the greater use of active-learning strategies. Students will also complete a survey measuring their cognitive engagement to compare differences in students’ professional orientation toward the usefulness and value of computing in their future course work and careers. This is a critical perspective to understand as freshmen are just beginning to develop their professional identity as engineers. Finally, focus groups with students in each course will investigate students’ general perspectives on these courses including how can they be improved and what course components they believe best support their learning. The data collection will be completed in December 2018 with final results shared in the first draft of the paper.
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