Many people were involved with the construction of this paper. The long
list of people includes, but is not limited to the following:
• Dr. Mark A. Ardis helped me construct a plan for my research and writing, and provided direction to me as a new student in the field of CSE.
• Dr. Andrew Kinley helped me construct and implement my experiments
on the students in CS120.
Dr. Cary Laxer allowed me to conduct quizzes in his classroom and provided support and feedback for my experiments.
• Dr. Gwen Lee-Thomas helped me to design and think through the im-
plementation and evaluation of my experiments.
• Steve Wolfman helped point me to good sources of information on Computer Science Education, and provided me with a prime example of im-
plementing atypical techniques in CS classes.
Dr. Caroline Carvill, Dr. David Finn, Dr. Andy Kinley, Dr. Daniel •
Morris, Dr. Laurence Merkle, Dr. Mark Yoder, and Dr. Arthur Western let me interview them about their teaching techniques and general
• Dr. Gary Sherman, Dr. Carvill, Dr. Kinley, and other professors provided me with the inspiration to see how atypical techniques would affect CS education.
has a different capacity to entertain students. The role-play most likely
targeted the active learners in the course who were not learning as
effectively due to the high frequency of lecturing. The experimental
section, although motivated and entertained by the activity, may not
have been the most receptive to the style of active learning.
In both experiments, the students who first scored below their section’s average (lower-half students) were able to make significant gains
in scores after a role-play. The lower-half students in the experimental
section showed more increase than those in the control section (Figure
3). This shows how the role-play exercises benefit the students who
began with less than average mastery of the CS concepts.
90% 80% 70% 60%
Figure 3: Increases for students who started below average.
While not all the students benefited from the use of these atypical
classroom techniques, the average gain in lower-half students is much
larger than the average gain for the whole class. This might imply that
the students who began above the average (upper-half students) did
not benefit from the role-play and perhaps actually suffered from such
a concentration on active learning. This could be one reason active-learning techniques are not implemented more frequently. In their
paper on active learning, Bonwell and Eison write that “perhaps the
single greatest barrier of all, however, is the fact that faculty members’
efforts to employ active learning involve risk: the risks that students will
not participate, use higher-order thinking, or learn sufficient content,
that faculty members will feel a loss of control, lack necessary skills or
be criticized for teaching in unorthodox ways” [ 1]. The experiment
shows that the role-play had a positive effect on the students who were
struggling in the course and minimal negative effects on the students
who were doing well with the lecture and group-work methods.
In summary, atypical techniques can be used to help instructors
become more effective in teaching their students introductory concepts in computer science. Not only can professors make CS concepts
more fun, but they can also pique students’ curiosity, cater to their
learning style, and relate ideas in new and interesting ways. The use of
unorthodox methods in the classroom helps an instructor to interest
the class, and more importantly, keep the class interested. By gaining
the students’ attention they can reiterate concepts without seeming
repetitive, and by varying teaching methods instructors can target the
various learning styles needed in the classroom. As the University of
Washington witnessed with their own Steve Wolfman, these atypical
techniques can be used to make computer science courses more effective and interesting for both student and teacher.
1. Bonwell, C. C. and Eison, J. A. 1991. Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education.
2. Bradley, M. Guess Who? (Game).
3. Buckland, R. 1996. Can we improve teaching in computer science by
looking at how English is taught? In Proceedings of the 2nd Australasian
Conference on Computer Science Education, ACM Press. 155-162.
4. Felder, R. M. 1996. Matters of style. ASEE Prism 6, 4. 18-23.
5. Harrill, R. 2002. University of Washington Recognition Awards
2001-02. U Week Awards.
6. Matocha, J., Camp, T., and Hooper, R. 1998. Extended analogy: an alternative lecture method. In Proceedings of the 29th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, ACM Press. 262-266.
7. Wolfman, S. A. 2002. Making lemonade: Exploring the bright side of
large lecture classes. In ACM SIGCSE Bulletin. 257-261.
Sid Stamm ( email@example.com) is a Ph.D. Student at Indiana University and recently graduated from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology with a BS in Computer Science. He is interested in functional programming languages and Computer Science Education as it specifically
relates to entry-level studies for people who may not be pursuing Computer
Science as a career or might not yet be interested in the field.
This article originally appeared in Crossroads 10. 4
(Summer 2004), “Computer Science Education.”