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Improving Student Retention With A Mid Semester Supplemental Course Option

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Curriculum Development in Computer Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.706.1 - 9.706.22

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Paper Authors

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Dwight Egbert

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Dave Williams

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

Session 1349

Improving Student Preparation and Retention With a Mid-Semester Supplemental Course Option Dave Williams and Dwight Egbert Western Nevada Community College / University of Nevada, Reno


Otherwise capable students who lack sufficient preparation may lose interest, drop courses, and possibly withdraw from a technical program when confronted by the daunting task of learning the principles of basic algorithm development and programming technique in C++ or Java at the same time. Several weeks into an introductory programming course, a cohort of struggling students likely to withdraw can be readily identified. An alternate mid-semester course option with an emphasis on introductory algorithms has been developed in an attempt to retain and benefit these students.

The course is a dedicated problem-solving forum built around the less hostile and graphic- enabled Matlab programming language which focuses on the translation of useful and interesting problems into code. Potential CS drop candidates are strongly encouraged to add this course as they withdraw from the programming class with no additional fees (via the “drop/add” process). A more relaxed pace and the enrichment nature of the course provides a fresh start for struggling students, and the skills and confidence obtained in this course will increase the likelihood of their success in a conventional programming class in a future semester. Equally significant, the course maintains student participation in the technical curriculum and will therefore be likely to improve student retention. Other students seeking Matlab instruction, additional problem-solving development, or an introduction to elementary game programming are also invited to enroll. The course has also been accepted as a technical elective for non-engineering majors but is not applicable toward the college’s Engineering Technology or Engineering Science degrees.

The structure, curriculum, and class project used in the initial offering of the course are presented in this paper. The real centerpiece of the course was a collaborative class project: an implementation of the game of tic-tac-toe that can never lose a game to a human player. Every student was required to contribute a portion of the code that would function properly within the overall program. To assist other faculty in the formulation of similar projects, this semester’s programming project is described in great detail to present the many facets deemed critical to meet the objectives of the course. Also included are some suggested course modifications that will be implemented in future sections. Much of the material used in the course is available upon request for faculty who would like to implement a similar course at their institution.

Index Terms

Computer Programming, Matlab, Student Retention, Problem Solving, Tic-Tac-Toe

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Egbert, D., & Williams, D. (2004, June), Improving Student Retention With A Mid Semester Supplemental Course Option Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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