SIGCSE Preview: Allison Tew and Assessing CS Knowledge

March 3, 2010 at 9:18 am 3 comments

Allison Elliott Tew has been trying to answer one simple question.  At Georgia Tech, we have three different introductory computing classes.  They aim to teach the same core skills and concepts.  Are students learning the same in all three?

In her first try at answering this question, she developed two isomorphic tests. She gave them to those students from different intro courses before and after a common second course. She found that she could distinguish between the intro courses on the pre-test, but she couldn’t tell the difference in the post-test.  That’s pretty significant.  If the intro course differences don’t matter by the end of the second semester, then maybe the debates about the approach in the first courses aren’t all that important.

But on repeated trials, Allison never got the exact same result.  What’s up?  She began to suspect her test.  Maybe differently students were interpreting it differently. She needed a reliable, valid test of an introductory level of CS knowledge — in a language independent format so that she could compare Python and MATLAB.  That’s a challenge.

That’s what Allison’s dissertation is about, and her SIGCSE paper describes her process.  One of the interesting parts about Allison’s development of this instrument is how she’s defining introductory knowledge. She’s decided to analyze popular textbooks for introductory computing, from different languages, and using the concept coverage in common between these books to define her test.  Allison is presenting her paper on Thursday at 1:45 pm in 201B — come hear about her project and her most recent results.

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