An Ebook for Java AP CS Review: Guest Blog Post from Barbara Ericson

June 17, 2019 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

My research partner, co-author, and wife, Barbara Ericson, has been building an ebook (like the ones we’ve been making for AP CSP, as mentioned here and here) for students studying Advanced Placement (AP) CS Level A. We wanted to write a blog post about it, to help more AP CS A students and teachers find it. She kindly wrote this blog post on the ebooks

I started creating a free interactive ebook for the Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science (CS) A course in 2014.  See http://tinyurl.com/JavaReview-new. The AP CSA course is intended to be equivalent to a first course for computer science majors at the college level.  It covers programming fundamentals (variables, strings, conditionals, loops), one and two dimensional arrays, lists, recursion, searching, sorting, and object-oriented programming in Java.

The AP CSA ebook was originally intended to be used as a review for the AP CSA exam.  I had created a web-site that thousands of students were using to take practice multiple-choice exams, but that web-site couldn’t handle the load and kept crashing.  Our team at Georgia Tech was creating a free interactive ebook for Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles (CSP) course on the Runestone platform. The Runestone platform was easily handling thousands of learners per day, so I moved the multiple choice questions into a new interactive ebook for AP CSA.  I also added a short description of each topic on the AP CSA exam and several practice exams.

Over the years, my team of undergraduate and high school students and I have added more content to the Java Review ebook and thousands of learners have used it.  It includes text, pictures, videos, executable and modifiable Java code, multiple-choice questions, fill-in-the-blank problems, mixed-up code problems (Parsons problems), clickable area problems, short answer questions, drag and drop questions, timed exams, and links to other practice sites such as CodingBat (https://codingbat.com/java) and the Java Tutor (http://pythontutor.com/java.html#mode=edit). It also includes free response (write code) questions from past exams.

Fill-in-the-blank problems ask a user to type in the answer to a question and the answer is checked against a regular expression. See https://tinyurl.com/fillInBlankEx.   Mixed-up code problems (Parsons problems) provide the correct code to solve a problem, but the code is broken into code blocks and mixed up.  The learner must drag the blocks into the correct order. See https://tinyurl.com/ParsonsEx.  I studied Parsons problems for my dissertation and invented two types of adaptation to modify the difficulty of Parsons problems to keep learners challenged, but not frustrated.  Clickable area questions ask learners to click on either lines of code or table elements to answer a question. See https://tinyurl.com/clickableEx.   Short answer questions allow users to type in text in response to a question.  See https://tinyurl.com/shortAnsEx. Drag and drop questions allow the learner to drag a definition to a concept.  See https://tinyurl.com/y68cxmpw.  Timed exams give the learner practice a set amount of time to finish an exam.  It shows the questions in the exam one at a time and doesn’t give the learner feedback about the correctness of the answer until after the exam.  See https://tinyurl.com/timedEx.

I am currently analyzing the log file data from both the AP CSA and CSP ebooks.  Learners typically attempt to answer the practice type questions, but don’t always run the example code or watch the videos.  In an observation study I ran as part of my dissertation work, teachers said that they didn’t run the code if the got the related practice question correct. They also didn’t always watch the videos, especially if the video content was also in the text.  Usage of the ebook tends to drop from the first chapter to the last instructional chapter, but increases again in the practice exam chapters at the end of the ebook. Usage also drops across the instructional material in a chapter and then increases again in the practice item subchapters near the end of each chapter.

Beryl Hoffman, an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Elms College and a member of the Mobile CSP team, has been creating a new AP CSA ebook based on my AP CSA ebook, but revised to match the changes to the AP CSA course for 2019-20202.  See https://tinyurl.com/csawesome.  One of the reasons for creating this new ebook is to help Mobile CSP teaches prepare to teach CSA.  The Mobile CSP team is piloting this book currently with CSP teachers.

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