How can we teach multiple CS1’s?

May 8, 2012 at 7:23 am 2 comments

A common question I get about contextualized approaches to CS1 is: “How can we possibly offer more than one introductory course with our few teachers?”  Valerie Barr has a nice paper in the recent Journal of Computing Sciences in Schools where she explains how her small department was able to offer multiple CS1’s, and the positive impact it had on their enrollment.

The department currently has 6 full time faculty members, and a 6 course per year teaching load. Each introductory course is taught studio style, with integrated lecture and hands-on work. The old CS1 had a separate lab session and counted as 1.5 courses of teaching load. Now the introductory courses (except Programming for Engineers) continue this model, meet the additional time and count as 1.5 courses for the faculty member, allowing substantial time for hands-on activities. Each section is capped at 18 students and taught in a computer lab in order to facilitate the transition between lecture and hands-on work.

In order to make room in the course schedule for the increased number of CS1 offerings, the department eliminated the old CS0 course. A number of additional changes were made in order to accommodate the new approach to the introductory CS curriculum: reduction of the number of proscribed courses for the major from 8 (out of 10) to 5 (this has the added benefit, by increasing the number of electives, of giving students more flexibility and choice within the general guidelines of the major); put elective courses on a rotation schedule so that each one is taught every other or every third year; made available to students a 4-year schedule of offerings so that they can plan according to the course rotation.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. divaoz  |  May 8, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks for pointing to Valerie ‘s paper too, I will seek it out.

  • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 9, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I hope that the 8 courses are “prescribed” rather than “proscribed”. Is 10 courses enough for a computer science major? Our university has 16 required computer science or computer engineering courses for a CS BS (not counting calculus and physics), out of a total of 36 courses in a 4-year program. Even the game design major requires 16 technical courses from CMPS or CMPE, plus 2 digital media courses and 3 art and social foundations courses. (There is a lighter-weight BA program in computer science with only 10 CMPS/CMPE courses required, intended mainly for double majors, so even here there is a minimal CS option.)


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