Matthew West

Re-engineering an "Introduction to Computing" course within a college-wide community of practice

W. Fagen, C. Heeren, G. L. Herman, and M. West

in Proceedings of the 122nd American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposition (ASEE 2015), 26.1303.1-26.1303.9, 2015.

Widening Implementation & Demonstration of Evidence Based Reforms (WIDER) is a campus-wide effort to create institutional change in the way we teach core gateway STEM courses. While instruction and course reform has historically been attempted by lone rangers to little lasting effect, WIDER's paradigm is to organize instructors into Communities of Practice (CoPs) to provide mutual support and training, and to encourage and facilitate the organic dissemination of best practices across courses among the members of the community of practice. In particular, mentorship relationships within the community have provided ready avenues for the translation of best practices. In the full paper, we will describe and analyze the redesign of one such course in the WIDER community, highlighting how the redesign of this course was informed by its involvement within this larger community of practice. Collectively, faculty in all disciplines have rapidly increasing expectations for students' competencies in computing. In response, our "Introduction to Computing" course was reengineered during the Spring 2014 semester with a three-pronged vision: (1) maintaining and elevating student engagement, (2) scaling the course to thousands of students per year, and (3) extending accessibility to any student, regardless of major, background knowledge, or technical ability. To elevate student engagement, the course iterates through nine instructional "cycles" consisting of four elements: (a) pre-lecture content presentation and practice problems, (b) active learning exercise during in-class lectures, (c) collaborative, context-rich problem solving lab sections, and (d) a programming assignment to complete on their own. These elements were initially developed in other courses redesigned by other members of the WIDER community, providing inspiration and guidance from within the community of practice. Efforts to scale this course have relied on the "flipped" course model and tapping into the one resource that scales with the number of students in the course: undergraduate course assistants. In particular, the collaborative lab sections are staffed primarily by former students. Finally, to improve accessibility, the course content is being designed with a "mobile-first" approach, ensuring that assignments, including assignments that involved writing code, could be completed on any modern computing device regardless of size. As part of the implement-evaluate culture engendered by the WIDER community, we have collected a variety of data demonstrating the effectiveness of this new course design. Surveys have revealed that students are responding positively to the collaborative learning environment as 83% of students report that their peers are helpful in lab and 87% prefer working in groups to working individually. Similarly, pageview data shows that students are investing time in the pre-lecture activities and are taking advantage of the mobile-first design. The success of the reengineering has seen the course enrollment jump to over 900 students in Fall 2014. In the spirit of WIDER, the community is now translating these practices to a follow-on "Foundations in Computing" course at the sophomore level. This new course is expected to be executed in Spring 2015 using the same course design and teaching techniques within the WIDER community of practice.

DOI: 10.18260/p.24640

Full text: FaHeHeWe2015.pdf