CS Education Research

Flipped Classrooms

Flipped (inverted) classrooms are being increasingly employed across secondary and higher education. The basic idea is to have students consume informational content outside of class, typically through short video lectures, and then have students participate in active learning activities in class (replacing the lecture time) where the students can get help applying the content to problem sets from peers, TAs and professors.

I have been teaching in the flipped classroom style for four years, and I can’t imagine ever going back to lecturing. Along with other faculty in our college, I continue to collect survey and focus group data about the impact of this style of teaching. The interesting research questions in this area relate to the long-term impact of large-scaled flipped classroom learning. As we move the majority of our core courses to this model, how does it change students’ expectations of learning? Does this really make them into life-long learners? Do they take more responsibility for their own learning?

Lightweight Teams

I came up with the idea of lightweight teams when I was designing a new first-year programming class. I had been learning about the benefits of team-based learning and I really wanted the first year students in our college to get the social interaction and communication practice associated with team-based learning. However, I knew from experience that students hate being put into teams or groups for big projects – they always stress about their teammates’ contributions and possible consequences for their grades. So I decided to create long-term teams that would avoid the grade stress.

Lightweight Teams Definition: a small team of students assigned to work with each other all semester long, in a fixed seating plan, but who only work together in the classroom on low-stakes activities that have little or no impact on final grades.

Lightweight Teams work really well for large first-year and second-year flipped classrooms, providing a consistent structure that is more self-sustaining. By sitting with the same group of students each week, students face social pressure to come to class prepared. Students also make friends within their discipline, which should help with program retention, by providing social integration and a support network when they hit more difficult courses later in the degree. Lightweight teams give students significant, sustained practice at social interaction and in discipline-specific communication. We also believe that lightweight teams will help scaffold teamwork skills for later courses in which high-stakes group projects are suitable. One of the interesting research questions is what should middle-year, middle-weight teams look like?

Sketching & Spatial Skills

We have begun requiring students in our intro programming classes to have sketchbooks. We are integrated a variety of sketching activities into these classes as a way to help students construct their own visual understandings of various programming and computing concepts. We are studying how this impacts their learning. More recently, based on the idea that learning spatial skills can close the achievement gap in engineering (see Cooper et al’s. paper in ICER 2016), we are studying how teaching spatial skills can improve learning in CS.

Video Collaboratory

The Video Collaboratory is a web-based tool for small group collaboration around video documents. The tool supports fine-grained analysis and annotation of videos in a private forum. While originally created to support the creative process of dance production, it is now being used in education to support flipped classroom learning. By placing the content videos in the Video Collaboratory, professors can include discussion prompts, see student comments linked to particular parts of the video and understand what parts of the video are generating the most questions and discussions. Students can slow down, speed up, and sketch on the video frames. The system can also be used for video projects and is particularly suited to peer critiquing of video projects. We continue to investigate how this system can support educational engagement in the video age, and to study how lightweight teams can best be supported by the platform.