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Using Active Learning to Increase Student Retention in Introductory Computing Courses

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Software Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Software Engineering Division

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Paper Authors


Bruce Herring Rochester Institute of Technology (GCCIS)

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Bruce Herring is a lecturer in the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Department of Software Engineering. He holds a MS in Computer Science from Florida State University. At RIT he teaches several introductory courses to incoming freshmen and sophomores in computer science and software engineering. Prior to RIT he worked in industry for 16 years for Harris Corporation, a communications company. His work was predominantly in an embedded environment dealing with the interactions between software and hardware. He has worked to integrate his extensive industry experience into the classroom to provide students with a fuller understanding of how concepts are applied after they leave the university environment.

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Robert St Jacques Rochester Institute of Technology

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Robert St. Jacques is a lecturer in the Software Engineering Department within RIT's Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. He holds an MS in Computer Science from RIT. Robert spent nearly 20 years as a professional software engineer, with the bulk of that time spent as a member of the research and technical staff at the Xerox Research Center in Webster, NY. He is a contributing author to over 20 US Patents and served as the Director of the Advanced Software Innovation Lab at PARC before joining RIT. Over the last four years, Robert has designed and built courses for both RIT and the University of Rochester covering topics ranging from introductory computing to advanced web and mobile development. Currently, he focuses on teaching courses in the first two years of the core Software Engineering sequence.

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Complete Paper – Evidence Based Practice. With an ever-growing number of students eying a future career in the tech industry, Computer Science programs at universities across the United States have experienced explosive growth. One of the many challenges for any undergraduate Computer Science program is to establish a firm foundation in introductory Computer Science that accommodates a large number of students with a wildly diverse set of skills and experience. One traditional technique is to lecture students once or twice a week, and provide a small number of relatively large homework or lab assignments for students to practice what they have learned on their own time and/or in university lab spaces. Experience shows that, while larger homework and lab assignments are useful, students with little experience learn best when given many, repeated, and small opportunities to practice new concepts before bringing them to bear on new and larger problems. We propose an alternative to the traditional lecture/lab format, that incorporates active learning techniques into the classroom that provide students an opportunity to practice new concepts immediately after they have been introduced. During lecture, these activities are presented as short, 3-5 minute exercises meant to be completed with a pencil and paper. Later in the week, students meet with the instructor in a lab space, insuring that every student has access to a computer, and complete another series of short exercises, this time writing code to solve real problems. Students are provided with many opportunities to practice, fail, and receive corrective feedback directly from instructors in real time before tackling larger homework and lab assignments on their own. We put this theory into practice in the Fall 2018 semester for Computer Science 1 (a freshmen level course) at RIT’s Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. The experiment included approximately 200 students, with another 450 students in a control group using the traditional lecture/lab format. In this paper we present the results of our experiment based on course withdrawal rates, final grades, and student satisfaction (as measured by two surveys).

Herring, B., & St Jacques, R. (2019, June), Using Active Learning to Increase Student Retention in Introductory Computing Courses Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33493

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