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Java Applets To Reinforce Fundamental Computer Science Concepts

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2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Issues in Computer Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.846.1 - 10.846.12



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Paper Authors

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Michael Quinn

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

Java Applets to Reinforce Fundamental Computer Science Concepts

Michael J. Quinn School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Oregon State University


We describe a set of 15 interactive animations developed for college freshmen taking a computer science orientation course. The purpose of using the interactive animations is to improve students’ understanding of conceptual and procedural knowledge fundamental to the field of computer science. The animations have been implemented as Java applets. We explain how introducing applet-enabled activities into lectures has affected the classroom experience. We present evidence that the use of these animations has significantly improved the performance of students on exam questions.


Computer science majors at Oregon State University take a course called Computer Science Orientation during the first term of their freshman year. The class meets for about four hours per week: three 50-minute lectures and one 80-minute recitation. The primary goal of the ten-week course is to introduce students to some of the major concepts in computer science. In this respect it resembles CS100B in Computing Curricula 2001.1 However, the course also has secondary goals of teaching basic university survival skills, introducing career options, and giving students some experience solving problems as members of a team. An implicit, overarching goal of the course is to increase the retention rate of students enrolled as computer science majors.

In the decade since we created Computer Science Orientation, we have consistently seen a large percentage of students who do poorly on the exams. In particular, students have performed poorly when asked questions requiring them to demonstrate their procedural knowledge, such as converting binary numbers to decimal or adding integers stored in two’s complement form. We hypothesize that students are not spending enough time practicing these tasks. Traditionally, we have assigned students only a few end-of-chapter review questions per week, because the class is large (typically over 100 students), and the teaching assistants do not have the time to grade a large number of homework exercises. We have looked for a way to get students more engaged with the material and to increase the amount of time they spend solving problems, without increasing the amount of grading needed.

This year the College of Engineering at Oregon State University required every incoming freshman to have a laptop computer. We have taken advantage of this opportunity by creating

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright  2005, American Society for Engineering Education

Quinn, M. (2005, June), Java Applets To Reinforce Fundamental Computer Science Concepts Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--14256

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