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Using Student-Developed Narratives to Improve Learning and Engagement in Computer Problem-Solving Courses

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

Computing & Information Technology Division Technical Session

Tagged Division

Computing & Information Technology

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Paper Authors


Candido Cabo New York City College of Technology

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Candido Cabo is a Professor in the Department of Computer Systems Technology at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York (CUNY). He earned the degree of Ingeniero Superior de Telecomunicacion from the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain) in 1982, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University (Durham, NC) in 1992. He was a post-doctoral fellow at Upstate Medical Center, State University of New York (Syracuse, NY), and a research scientist in the Department of Pharmacology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (New York, NY). Since 2005, he has been a member of the doctoral faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center. His research interests include computer science and engineering education and the use of computational models to understand and solve problems in biology.

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Reneta Davina Lansiquot New York City College of Technology

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Reneta D. Lansiquot is Associate Professor and Program Director of the Bachelor of Science in Professional and Technical Writing at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York, where she earned an AAS in Computer Information Systems and a BTech in Computer Systems. She earned a MS in Integrated Digital Media at Polytechnic University and a PhD in Educational Communication and Technology at New York University. Her research focuses on interdisciplinary studies. Her first book is entitled Cases on Interdisciplinary Research Trends in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics: Studies on Urban Classrooms (Information Science Reference, 2013). Her two forthcoming books are entitled Interdisciplinary Pedagogy for STEM: A Collaborative Case Study (Palgrave Macmillan) and Technology, Theory, and Practice in Interdisciplinary STEM Programs: Connecting STEM and Non-STEM Approaches (Palgrave Macmillan).

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In our Computer Systems major, we require all students to take a problem-solving course (PS) to prepare them for subsequent courses in computer programming. As part of the PS course, students learn basic procedural programming concepts such as input, sequencing, selection (if/else), repetition (for and while loops), and output, using flowchart interpreters like Visual Logic ( When trying to solve flowcharting problems, students have difficulty translating word problems into computer algorithms. Moreover, most problems proposed to students are closely related to mathematics and accounting, and our students are not well prepared in mathematics. Partly for this reason, students are often not interested or engaged by the problems proposed to them in the flowcharting component of the course. Researchers have shown that understanding and engaging the problem domain to be solved by implementing a computer program should be a prerequisite for writing the computer program itself. Therefore, the students’ inability to create a mental model of a given problem domain hinders their ability to develop problem-solving skills and write computer programs.

The goal of our project was to create problem domains that students could understand, relate to, and be engaged with, so they can be used as the contexts to develop problem-solving and procedural programming skills in the flowcharting component of the PS course. Our approach is based on the premise that students themselves know better which problems are relevant to them, which problems they can relate to and understand. We selected a group of five students majoring in Computer Systems who had passed the PS course in the last three years and gave them the task of developing stories that could be used as context to solve flowcharting problems. These five students completed a section of the PS course that was linked to an English Composition course in a learning community (LC), so, in addition to understanding well the course in which the stories were going to be used, they had considerable narrative and writing skills. The students themselves suggested which flowcharting assignments could be fostered by the stories. The stories were developed iteratively, following a combination of individual writing, group discussion, and faculty suggestions, to further improve the versions of the stories. Students were provided with a small stipend.

The use of student-developed narratives affected performance in different flowcharting structures differently. Overall the data suggests that the use of case studies was beneficial for increasing performance in selection assessments, modestly beneficial for repetition assessments and of no benefit for sequence assessments. Despite the learning benefit, a majority of students and instructors were resistant to use case-studies in this course. A majority of students thought that reading stories does not belong in a problem-solving/computer programming class, which indicates that students tend to compartmentalize learning.

Cabo, C., & Lansiquot, R. D. (2016, June), Using Student-Developed Narratives to Improve Learning and Engagement in Computer Problem-Solving Courses Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27165

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