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Attracting Students to Programming via Physical Computing

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Curricular Issues in Computing and Information Technology Programs I

Tagged Division

Computing & Information Technology

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Paper Authors


Alka R Harriger Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Alka Harriger joined the faculty of the Computer and Information Technology Department (CIT) in 1982 and is currently a Professor of CIT. For the majority of that time, she has been actively involved in teaching software development courses. From 2008-2014, she led the NSF-ITEST funded SPIRIT (Surprising Possibilities Imagined and Realized through Information Technology) project. Since October 2013, she has been co-leading with Prof. Brad Harriger the NSF-ITEST funded TECHFIT (Teaching Engineering Concepts to Harness Future Innovators and Technologists) project. Professor Harriger's current interests include application development, outreach to K-12 to interest more students to pursue computing careers, applying IT skills to innovating fitness tools, and wearable computing.

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Mayari I. Serrano Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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MAYARI SERRANO is currently a graduate research assistant in the College of Engineering at Purdue University. She earned her B.S. degree from the Army Polytechnic School, Quito, Ecuador. She completed her M.S. in Computer and Information Technology at Purdue University. Mayari is currently a PhD student at Purdue University and is working in for the Women in Engineering Program. Her interests include foster STEM enthusiasm, and technology innovation.

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College computing programs that use hands-on outreach activities to introduce pre-college students to their discipline should ensure that the activities employed will engage their interest and spark a desire to learn more. Programming is an essential skill of most, if not all, computing programs, yet it is also a subject that tends to make students shy away from the discipline. By selecting tools that make the value of programming obvious, and the process of learning more straightforward, the chance of retaining student interest is increased. Given that the outreach sessions are typically less than one hour, communicating the value of programming to various application areas becomes a challenge.

After trying a number of different programming tools in 40-50 minute outreach sessions for K-12 students, experience has shown that using tools that demonstrate programming’s application to physical devices enables participants to immediately grasp the benefit of this skill set. The paper and presentation will share how a specific programming tool for controlling behavior of a physical microcontroller system with input sensors and output devices has been used successfully in outreach programs. The tool allows the user to create flowcharts to depict program logic, has an integrated simulator to test the behavior of the program, and can be downloaded directly to the physical microcontroller to control the physical system.

Harriger, A. R., & Serrano, M. I. (2016, June), Attracting Students to Programming via Physical Computing Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26347

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