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A Visual and Engaging Approach to Learning Computer Algorithms

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session


Tagged Division

Computing & Information Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.126.1 - 24.126.27

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Paper Authors

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Daniel Raviv Florida Atlantic University

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Yumi Kahori Nakagawa

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George Roskovich Florida Atlantic University

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A Visual and Engaging Approach to Learning Computer Algorithms Abstract In today’s world, the use of new educational media such as Khanacademy, Coursera, Google,Youtube have become widely popular. Research shows that students prefer visual and intuitive learningtaught in an interactive and rewarding way. This paper shares a new approach for learning computeralgorithms using intuitive examples that relate to daily experiences. The goal of the project is to developsupplementary material that introduces computer algorithm concepts in a way that correlates withstudents’ learning styles as well as interactive, i.e., web-based. The authors wish to clarify that this effort is by no means an attempt to replace existing materialthat is currently being taught. It is suggested as add-ons that can assist instructors to introduce theconcepts and for students to comprehend basic principles utilizing their intuitive and visual learningabilities. The material will be followed by a mathematical understanding of the subject. The use of analogies, games, stories, hands-on activities, puzzles, and riddles allow the studentsto actively and interactively understand the basic concepts behind computer algorithm theories. Forinstance, we use the “baking a cake” example to explain the meaning of an algorithm. The students areshown a visual step-by-step process of how to make a cake, which is followed by a flowchart of thealgorithm. Another example is the “Line up According to the Month of your Birthday” activity, in whichthe students are asked to line up in order in accordance to their birthday month without speaking to oneanother. With this method, the students are able to grasp sorting algorithm concepts in an engaging way.A slightly different version of this activity can also serve to explain parallel “merge” sorting algorithms.In this case the students are split into two groups, each of which lines up in accordance to the month ofthe participants birthdays which is followed by merging the two groups. In addition, trivia and interestingsections like “Did you know,” “Fun Facts,” and “Historical Facts” are added in order to enhance thestudents’ intuitive learning experience. In order to positively reinforce the students’ experience they are asked to come up with their ownvisual and intuitive examples and analogies on each subject. The assessment and feedback on this methodhave been greatly appreciated due to its effectiveness. The students have shown greater participation andinterest in the class and have unanimously praised the method.

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