Redesigning an Introductory Programming Course to Facilitate Effective Student Learning: A Case Study

Cynthia L Corritore, Betty Love
Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice  •  Volume 19  •  2020  •  pp. 091-135

This study reports the outcome of how a first pilot semester introductory programming course was designed to provide tangible evidence in support of the concept of Student Ownership of Learning (SOL) and how the outcomes of this programming course facilitate effective student learning.

Many instructors want to create or redesign their courses to strengthen the relationship between teaching and learning; however, the researchers of this study believe that the concept of Student Ownership of Learning (SOL) connects to student engagement and achievement in the classroom setting. The researchers redesigned the introductory programming course to include valuable teaching methods to increase Student Ownership of Learning and constructive approaches such as making students design an authentic mobile app project as individuals, partners, or within teams. The high quality of students’ projects positioned them as consultants to the university IT department.

This paper employs a case study design to construct a qualitative research method as it relates to the phenomenon of the study’s goals and lived experiences of students in the redesigned introductory programming course. The redesigned course was marketed to students as a new course with detailed description and elements that were different from the traditional computer science introductory programming course requirement. The redesigned introductory programming course was offered in two sections: one section with 14 registered students and the other section with 15 registered students. One faculty member instructed both sections of the course. A total of 29 students signed up for the newly redesigned introductory programming course, more than in previous semesters, but two students dropped out within the first two weeks of the redesigned course making a total of 27 students. The redesigned coursework was divided into two parts of the semester. The first part of the semester detailed description and elements of the coursework including a redesigned approach with preparation for class, a quiz, and doing homework in class, which gives students control of decisions whenever possible; and working with each other, either with a partner or in a team. The second part of the semester focuses on students designing a non-trivial working mobile app and presenting their developing mobile app at a significant public competition at the end of the semester. Students developed significantly complex mobile apps and incorporated more complex functionality in their apps. Both Management Information System (MIS) major students and Computer Science major students were in the same course despite the fact that MIS students had never taken a programming course before; however, the Computer Science students had taken at least one course of programming.

This study provides a practical guide for faculty members in Information Technology programs and other faculty members in non-Computer Science programs to create or redesign an introductory course that increases student engagement and achievement in the classroom based on the concept of Student Ownership of Learning (SOL). This study also deepens the discussion in curriculum and instruction on the value to explore issues that departments or programs should consider when establishing coursework or academic programs.

This study found two goals evidently in support to increase Student Ownership of Learning (SOL). The first goal (Increase their ownership of learning SOL) showed that students found value in the course contents and took control of their learning; therefore, the faculty no longer had to point out how important different programming concepts were. The students recognized their own learning gap and were excited when shown a programming concept that addressed the gap. For example, student comments were met with “boy, we can really use this in our app” instead of comments about how complex they were. The coursework produced a desired outcome for students as they would get the knowledge needed to make the best app that they could. The second goal (Develop a positive attitude toward the course) showed positive results as students developed a more positive attitude towards the course. Student actions in the classroom strongly reflected a positive attitude. Attendance was almost 100% during the semester even though no points for attendance were given. Further evidence of Student Ownership of Learning and self-identity was students’ extensive use of the terminology and concept of the course when talking to others, especially during the public competition. Students were also incorporating their learning into their identities. For example, teams became known by their app such as the Game team, the Recipe team, and the Parking team. One team even made team t-shirts. Another exciting reflection of the Student Ownership of Learning which occurred was the learning students did by themselves.

Practitioners can share best practices with faculty in different departments, programs, universities, and educational consultants to cultivate the best solution for Student Ownership of Learning based on student engagement and achievement in the classroom setting.

Researchers can explore different perspectives with scholars and practitioners in various disciplinary fields of study to create or redesign courses and programs to reflect Student Ownership of Learning (SOL).

Student Ownership of Learning is relevant for faculty and universities to incorporate in the creation or redesigning of coursework in academic programs. Readers can gain an understanding that student engagement and achievement are two important drivers of Student Ownership of Learning (SOL) in the classroom setting.

Practitioners and researchers could follow-up in the future with a study to provide more understanding and updated research information from different research samples and hypotheses on Student Ownership of Learning (SOL).

SOL, student engagement, student achievement, introductory program-ming, redesigning, computer science
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