Retention of Students in Introductory Computing Courses: Curricular Issues and Approaches
prise. Since pair programming may be
new to students, on-going discussion
may be needed to explain roles and
suggest constructive behaviors. When
used, the person at the keyboard
should change frequently to promote
communication and shared responsibility, and partners should be changed
often (perhaps weekly) to ensure one
person does not become dependent
• Peer Instruction (PI) in Computer Science, often including the use of clickers,
has been shown to promote discussion
and student engagement in large classes, as described in [ 6].
• Process-oriented Guided-Inquiry Learning (POGIL) emphasizes “a learning
cycle of exploration, concept invention
and application – as the basis for many
of the carefully designed materials
that students use to guide them to
construct new knowledge.” [ 7] The
POGIL organization provides extensive
materials and training workshops with
funding from the National Science
Foundation, the Department of Education, the Hach Scientific Foundation,
and the Toyota USA Foundation.
• Team-based Learning (TBL) “is an
evidence based collaborative learning
teaching strategy designed around
units of instruction,” with lessons
following a carefully-prescribed format.
The Team-Based Learning Cooperative provides substantial training and
resources, as described in [ 8].
• Other lab-based approaches, such as
the daily-lab formats for CS1 and CS2
described in [ 9], similarly utilize collaboration and active student engagement, within a relatively fluid format.
Curricular Models: Some curricular
structures aim to address challenges encountered in drawing students from many
disciplines into introductory computing.
• Technically-oriented schools, such as
Harvey Mudd College, may require all
students to take computing. When
computing is taken early, students gain
understandings and tools they can use
in many STEM disciplines. Students also
experience the discipline of computing
in their first (or second) year, giving
them time to consider majoring if they
are excited about what they find.
• Other schools allow computing to
count as one component of general
education requirements. Such options can bring students into contact
with computing and help them learn
what computing is and is not. Unless
general education requirements must
be fulfilled early, however, timing may
or may not allow interested students to
continue onward as majors.
• Some schools connect CS1 with image
processing or robotics (Bryn Mawr,
Georgia Tech, and Grinnell) or with
music (UMass at Lowell). In some cases,
faculty from art or music attend some
CS1 class sessions to provide insights
about application themes. These types
of experiments may resonate with
students in the arts or other populations and reach out to students outside
Best-practice documents: Several
approaches provide suggestions and
outline best practices for reaching out and
supporting women and URMs in computing specifically and STEM fields more
• The National Center for Women
and Information (NCWIT) maintains
materials on “Promising Practices” that
can help computing programs recruit
and retain diverse student populations,
see [ 5].
• EngageCSEdu offers a repository of
materials for CS1 and CS2, “including
assignments, tutorials, labs, assessments, lecture notes, exercises and
projects” with a special interest on
recruiting women and URMs. With resources available at [ 3], EngageCSEdu
is a collaborative effort of NCWIT and
• Several colleges and universities
support faculty discussion groups to
encourage effective teaching and learn-
ing. For example, the “Talking Teaching”
Lunch Group at UC San Diego provides
an ongoing forum for the discussion of
best practices. Similarly, for several de-
cades, Grinnell’s Science Teaching and
Learning Group has brought STEM fac-
ulty together for periodic discussions
each semester. Several schools also run
sessions for new faculty, including UC
San Diego’s New Faculty Workshop,
Williams’ Course Design Group, and
many, many others.
Overall, the ACM Retention Committee
has reviewed many curricular changes related to the retention of women and URMs
in introductory computing, and it continues to collect and analyze data to provide
further insights into programmatic issues.
However, the Committee also provides
encouragement and constructive hope,
as it continues to identify resources and
suggest possible directions.
Many thanks to the members of the ACM Retention
Committee for their support and help in the creation
and editing of this article. Special thanks to the following
members of the Publications Subcommittee: Colleen
Lewis, Debra Richardson, and Alison Derbenwick Miller.
1. Association for Computing Machinery. Author’s
Letter of Appointment to the ACM Retention
Committee, 2016 October 4.
2. CRA Enrollment Committee Institution Subgroup.
Generation CS, CS Undergraduate Enrollments
Surge Since 2006, (2017); http://www.cra.org/data/
generation-cs. Accessed 2017 September 21.
3. EngageCSEdu. Home Page: Foster diversity in your
introductory computer science courses with quality
content and engaging pedagogy; https://www.
engage-csedu.org/. Accessed 2017 August 9.
4. Luxton-Reilly, A. Learning to Program is Easy,
Proceedings of the 21st Annual Conference on
Innovation and Technology in Computer Science
Education, (ITiCSE) (2016), 284–289.
5. National Center for Women and Information
Technology. Promising Practices; https://www.ncwit.
2017 August 9.
6. Peer Instruction for Computer Science. Home Page:
Peer Instruction for Computer Science; http://www.
peerinstruction4cs.org . Accessed 2017 August 9.
7. Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning; https://
pogil.org . Accessed 2017 August 9.
8. Team-Based Learning Collaborative. What is TBL?
definition/. Accessed 2017 August 9.
9. Walker, H. M. Course Home Page: CSC 161: Imperative
Problem Solving and Data Structures; http://www.
2017 August 9.
Henry M. Walker
Dept of Computer Science
Grinnell, Iowa 50112 USA