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A Creatively Engaging Introductory Course In Computer Science That Gently Motivates Exploration Of Advanced Mathematical Concepts

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Innovations in ECE Education I

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.22.1 - 14.22.10

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Paper Authors


Eric Freudenthal University of Texas, El Paso

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Eric Freudenthal is an Assistant Professor of computer science at the Universtity of Texas at El Paso.

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Mary Kay Roy University of Texas, El Paso

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Mary "Kay" Roy is on the adjunct faculty of computer science at the Universtity of Texas at El Paso.

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Alexandria Ogrey University of Texas, El Paso

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Alexandria N. Ogrey is a B.S. candidate studying computer science at the Universtity of Texas at El Paso.

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Ann Gates University of Texas, El Paso

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Ann Q. Gates is a Professor of computer science at the University of Texas at El Paso.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

A Creatively Engaging Introductory Course in Computer Science that Gently Motivates Exploration of Mathematical Concepts Abstract

We describe reforms to a highly engaging algorithm-centric introductory course in media programming offered to pre-engineering students at the University of Texas at El Paso, an urban Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) as part of a required entering students program.

In order to become eligible to attend the introductory programming course that begins the computer science degree plan at UTEP (“CS-1”), a large fraction of incoming freshmen must attend several semesters of preparatory “pre calculus” math courses. Most of these students will have limited if any prior exposure to programming or engineering. The initial implementation of our course was intended solely to provide an engaging first experience with programming, and followed Mark Guzdial’s “Media Computation” curriculum. Dr. Guzdial’s curriculum has successfully engaged Liberal Arts students in programming through the creation of aesthetically motivated multimedia projects. Attendees in pre-engineering and pre-professional programs reported lack of interest in these aesthetically- focused projects and requested more practical projects and assignments. The course has been modified to focus more on the design of algorithms in a manner that exposes foundational mathematical concepts.


This paper describes the retargeting of an engaging media programming course developed by Mark Guzdial at Georgia Tech and was originally intended for liberal arts students.1 Our course, informally titled "Multimedia Exposed," primarily targets freshmen intending to study engineering or computer science. Although the objectives and approaches of the reformed course are quite different from Guzdial's, the evolution was not expected or intended, but instead was the result of a series of incremental reforms motivated by our observations of student interests and needs.

The first variant of this course was offered in Fall 2007. It was taught by Computer Science faculty in consultation with staff of the University's career guidance center. Early results have been very promising. Many students intending to study enginerering and computation find the course both enjoyable and engaging, and appear to be highly motivated towards continuing in this direction. We are conducting a longitudinal study to determine the effectiveness of this course in improving student success in CS and Engineering.

In order to engage a large number of freshmen, the course is incorporated into a required first semester "University Studies" program designed to teach skills necessary for academic success and to provide career guidance. Students attending this course are provided an accessible early exposure to simple dynamic systems simulations in a manner that includes both programming and mathematical modeling. Students’ reactions to these experiences support the course’s career guidance components - which provide opportunities for students to adjust their choice of major early in their academic careers.

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