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Active Learning Across The Computer Science Curriculum

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Programming for Engineering Students I

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.144.1 - 13.144.15



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Paper Authors

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William Birmingham Grove City College

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Vincent DiStasi Grove City College

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

Active Learning Across the CS Curriculum 1. Introduction

The general idea of active learning is to engage students during lecture with a variety of things that actively involve them in the material being presented. Through active engagement, students are highly encouraged to focus attention on the lecture. While active learning holds great promise, it also raises several important issues: designing materials for lecture that incorporate active learning while keeping lecture preparation reasonable, managing the classroom, and ensuring that the necessary amount of material is presented during lecture (time spent on activities is time not spent in lecture). While there is still much research being conducted to address these issues, many techniques have proven successful.

With proper technology support, active learning techniques become much easier to apply. In particular, specialized software helps to both manage the classroom and to create lecture materials. The Tablet PC, with the functionality to easily and quickly write equations and diagrams so important to the CS curriculum, is tremendously important in supporting active learning. 1,2

In this paper, we describe how the Tablet PC and specialized software is used across the CS curriculum, from our introductory programming classes through our most advanced courses for seniors. By using software to support active learning, faculty can use a variety of methods to engage student during a lecture, moving far beyond simple questions and answer. These Tablet PC/software systems allow students to privately ask the instructor questions, to report their status, and, under faculty control, ask questions of other students through “chatting.” More importantly, however, faculty can pose problems to students, have the student generate solutions, and return those solutions to the faculty member, who can display selected responses or evaluate them in real-time.

By using these different methods to engage students in problem-solving during lectures, we have found that not only do they participate directly in the lecture, but the faculty can make “real- time” assessment of how well the students are following. This allows the faculty member to adjust the lecture, such as increasing the pace of the lecture if the students are keeping up, to adding new material if the students are falling behind.

In this paper, we describe the hardware and software systems we use for active learning. We also describe the pedagogical methods we have developed over the past three years that applicable to a wide variety of CS and engineering classes. Finally, we present summary longitudinal data from both students and faculty showing the strengths and weaknesses of active learning.

2. Hardware and software

Grove City College has a 1:1 mobile computing program, now in its second decade, where each student receives at the start of his or her freshman year a computer. For the past four years, the computer has been a Hewlett-Packard Tablet PC. Currently, there are about 2500 Tablet PCs used by students and about 120 used by faculty.

Birmingham, W., & DiStasi, V. (2008, June), Active Learning Across The Computer Science Curriculum Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3950

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