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Re-engineering an "Introduction to Computing" Course within a College-Wide Community of Practice

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Course Development / Curriculum Development

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.1303.1 - 26.1303.9



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Paper Authors


Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Wade Fagen is a Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). He teaches one of UIUC's largest courses, Introduction to Computer Science, known as CS 105. His research aims to improve learning by using technologies that students already bring to the classroom.

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Cinda Heeren University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

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Dr. Cinda Heeren is an award-winning Senior Lecturer at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She teaches CS225, Data Structures and Programming Principles, to hundreds of enthusiastic and talented undergraduates every year. She is always game to try new pedagogical innovations, and she loves telling young women about her affection for computing.

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Geoffrey L. Herman University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Geoffrey L. Herman is a visiting assistant professor with the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a research assistant professor with the Department of Curriculum & Instruction. He earned his Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a Mavis Future Faculty Fellow and conducted postdoctoral research with Ruth Streveler in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. His research interests include creating systems for sustainable improvement in engineering education, promoting intrinsic motivation in the classroom, conceptual change and development in engineering students, and change in faculty beliefs about teaching and learning. He serves as the webmaster for the ASEE Educational Research and Methods Division.

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Matthew West University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign Orcid 16x16

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Matthew West is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Prior to joining Illinois he was on the faculties of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University and the Department of Mathematics at the University of California, Davis. Prof. West holds a Ph.D. in Control and Dynamical Systems from the California Institute of Technology and a B.Sc. in Pure and Applied Mathematics from the University of Western Australia. His research is in the field of scientific computing and numerical analysis, where he works on computational algorithms for simulating complex stochastic systems such as atmospheric aerosols and feedback control. Prof. West is the recipient of the NSF CAREER award and is a University of Illinois Distinguished Teacher-Scholar and College of Engineering Education Innovation Fellow.

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Reengineering an “Introduction to Computing” course within a College-Wide Community of Practice Widening Implementation & Demonstration of Evidence Based Reforms (WIDER) is acampus-wide effort to create institutional change in the way we teach core gateway STEMcourses. While instruction and course reform has historically been attempted by lone rangers tolittle lasting effect, WIDER’s paradigm is to organize instructors into Communities of Practice(CoPs) to provide mutual support and training, and to encourage and facilitate the organicdissemination of best practices across courses among the members of the community of practice.In particular, mentorship relationships within the community have provided ready avenues forthe translation of best practices. In the full paper, we will describe and analyze the redesign ofone such course in the WIDER community, highlighting how the redesign of this course wasinformed by its involvement within this larger community of practice. Collectively, faculty in all disciplines have rapidly increasing expectations for students’competencies in computing. In response, our “Introduction to Computing” course wasreengineered during the Spring 2014 semester with a three-pronged vision: (1) maintaining andelevating student engagement, (2) scaling the course to thousands of students per year, and (3)extending accessibility to any student, regardless of major, background knowledge, or technicalability. To elevate student engagement, the course iterates through nine instructional “cycles”consisting of four elements: (a) pre-lecture content presentation and practice problems, (b) activelearning exercise during in-class lectures, (c) collaborative, context-rich problem solving labsections, and (d) a programming assignment to complete on their own. These elements wereinitially developed in other courses redesigned by other members of the WIDER community,providing inspiration and guidance from within the community of practice. Efforts to scale this course have relied on the “flipped” course model and tapping into theone resource that scales with the number of students in the course: undergraduate courseassistants. In particular, the collaborative lab sections are staffed primarily by former students. Finally, to improve accessibility, the course content is being designed with a “mobile-first” approach, ensuring that assignments, including assignments that involved writing code,could be completed on any modern computing device regardless of size. As part of the implement-evaluate culture engendered by the WIDER community, wehave collected a variety of data demonstrating the effectiveness of this new course design.Surveys have revealed that students are responding positively to the collaborative learningenvironment as 83% of students report that their peers are helpful in lab and 87% prefer workingin groups to working individually. Similarly, pageview data shows that students are investingtime in the pre-lecture activities and are taking advantage of the mobile-first design. The success of the reengineering has seen the course enrollment jump to over 900students in Fall 2014. In the spirit of WIDER, the community is now translating these practicesto a follow-on “Foundations in Computing” course at the sophomore level. This new course isexpected to be executed in Spring 2015 using the same course design and teaching techniqueswithin the WIDER community of practice.

Fagen-Ulmschneider, W., & Heeren, C., & Herman, G. L., & West, M. (2015, June), Re-engineering an "Introduction to Computing" Course within a College-Wide Community of Practice Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24640

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