Computer science department uses new methods to engage students and help retain course material

Lauren Grobe

Computer science professors are incorporating flipped classrooms and paired programming to engage with students in larger, lecture-style courses.

The flipped classroom method “flips” the role of class time. Students watch or listen to a lecture outside of class and the lecture time is used for hands-on practice and problem solving. Paired programming is when students work on a programming issue together, even sharing the same keyboard. Computer science professor Bruce Porter said these methods help improve engagement and students’ retention of information.

“It all comes down to getting the students to engage with the information right away,” Porter said.

Porter said by using these methods, students not only retain course material better but also have a greater depth of understanding.

“You’re able to get past just trying to remember the information and get into how the information is used,” Porter said.

Computer science professor Glenn Downing noticed students not showing up for his lecture courses and changed his teaching style to facilitate more engagement.

“Maybe a third of the population wouldn’t show up for lecture, which seemed like a waste of money on someone’s pocket,” Downing said, “So, I literally started giving a quiz every day.”

Along with daily quizzes, Downing uses paired programming by offering extra credit to students who work on problems with a partner.

“Software is now so complicated and there are so many issues … you almost never see, in real software development, anyone working by themselves,” Downing said.

By engaging more students overall, Porter said the department is able to retain more women and minority students.

“We have 25 percent women in our undergraduate program, which is not as high as we’d like it to be,” Porter said, “But compared to our peer institutions in computer science we’re doing very well.”

Computer science freshman Saoyma Tangri’s data structure class uses paired programming, which Tangri said has helped her engage with other students.

“It’s really nice because I actually made some good friends through my paired programming project and I got a different perspective on things,” Tangri said.

Tangri is currently in two lecture-style introductory computer science courses. Despite the size, Tangri said she felt engaged as an individual.  

“Even though it’s a really big class, it feels like you can ask anything whenever you want,” Tangri said. “It feels almost like a discussion.”