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An online course for freshmen? The evolution of a successful online CS1 course

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2020 First-Year Engineering Experience


East Lansing, Michigan

Publication Date

July 26, 2020

Start Date

July 26, 2020

End Date

July 28, 2020

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Frank Vahid University of California, Riverside

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Frank Vahid is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the Univ. of California, Riverside. His research interests include CS/engineering education, and embedded systems. He is a co-founder of

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Joe Michael Allen University of California, Riverside

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Joe Michael Allen is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at the University of California, Riverside. His current research focuses on finding ways to improve CS education, specifically focusing on introductory programming courses known as CS1. Joe Michael is actively researching the impact of using a many small programs (MSP) teaching approach in CS1 courses. His other interests include educational games for building skills for college-level computer science and mathematics.

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(Required first sentence: This is an abstract for a full paper.) Online courses often have drawbacks for young college students that lead to low engagement and low success. We have taught an online CS1 section at a major university every quarter since 2013, and discovered features that have led the class to evolve to have high engagement and high success. Those features include: (1) synchronous meetings with instructors projecting video/audio and students actively participating via a text chat forum (2) strong learning content/tools outside class, (3) simple class structure and assigning many small tasks rather than a few large tasks, and (4) strong instructors. The online section's overall grade performance is now excellent, and the online section's end-of-quarter evaluations are also competitive with in-person, sometimes stronger, and commonly rate the class in the 80th percentile of all classes on campus. Students often express surprise at how engaging the online class was, with comments like "I've never been so engaged in a class; I wish more classes were online." The class has served as the model for online CS classes at other universities as well.

Vahid, F., & Allen, J. M. (2020, July), An online course for freshmen? The evolution of a successful online CS1 course Paper presented at 2020 First-Year Engineering Experience, East Lansing, Michigan.

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