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Engagement in Practice: Teaching Introductory Computer Programming at County Jails

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Engagement In Practice: Integrating Community Engagement into Engineering Curricula

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

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Paper Authors


Theresa Anne Migler-VonDollen California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Theresa Migler-VonDollen currently lectures in the Computer Science department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Previously, she taught in the Computer Science department at UC Santa Cruz. Theresa earned a PhD in Computer Science at Oregon State University in 2014. She also holds MS and BS degrees in Mathematics from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Theresa is a highly effective educator and a recent nominee for "most supportive professor" at Cal Poly. She advises MS and senior project students at Cal Poly and actively supports several student clubs including: Women in Software and Hardware (by attending the Grace Hopper Conference) and the Indian Student Association (by serving as the faculty advisor). While at UC Santa Cruz, Theresa developed an innovative course in social networks, which served as an engaging introduction to graph theory and game theory concepts for students from across the university.

Theresa's research interests center around computer science theory and algorithms with emphasis on applications throughout computer science and across disciplines. Specific areas of interest include: graph theoretic algorithms, approximation algorithms, streaming algorithms, and graph visualization. She also devotes research time to the study of computer science education in underrepresented and low income populations. One of Theresa's current projects involves teaching programming and computational thinking at jails in SLO county; a project in which she has involved several Cal Poly Computer Science students.

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Lizabeth T Schlemer California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

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Lizabeth is a Associate Dean at Cal Poly, SLO. She has been teaching for 22 years and has continued to develop innovative pedagogy such as project based, flipped classroom and competency grading. Through the SUSTAIN SLO learning initiative she and her colleagues have been active researching in transformation in higher education.

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We have developed a program to teach an introduction to computer programming course in the local county jails. We have taught the course twice, once at the women's jail and once at the men's jail. We were assisted by University X students. The course is based off of the first four weeks of a computer science course taught in Python at University X. The students gained an understanding of fundamental programming concepts: loops, booleans, if-else statements. They also learned to communicate using Python syntax. Our goals were to empower the students with technology and give them tools to create a project that they could be proud of. We teamed with a local nonprofit to implement this program. The nonprofit managed jail orientations, security clearance, and scheduling for us. This collaboration was very fruitful for many reasons, one of which was that they helped us prepare for jail specific challenges.

In this paper we describe our unique program and the challenges that come with teaching computer programming in the jail setting. We discuss some teaching methods that worked and some that didn't. We address how to include undergraduate students in this rewarding program. We discuss our future plans and goals.

Migler-VonDollen, T. A., & Schlemer, L. T. (2018, June), Engagement in Practice: Teaching Introductory Computer Programming at County Jails Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30392

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