Reinvigorating CS1 by Enabling Creative Web 2.0 Programming

Start Date: 09/01/2009
End Date: 08/31/2012

Intellectual Merit: This project produces educational materials and the necessary technological infrastructure to allow the use of state-of-the-art Web 2.0 technology in CS1, enabling a new generation of programming activities that significantly increase student engagement. This research develops an open-source server environment based on custom virtual machines that allows students to create and deploy rich internet applications without exposing them to the complexity normally associated with these applications. The environment's design provides the necessary abstractions that facilitate students developing such applications while retaining instructional focus on CS principles and concepts, rather than transient technology trends. This project develops an open-source class library that allows students to integrate many real-world data sources into their applications.

A complete set of CS1 course assignments is developed, including programming exercises and labs with automated grading support, and a custom-published textbook suitable for a semester-long course. Topics are geared towards using real-world problems that are relevant in a student's life, including problems that show the social impact of the discipline, creating solutions that are meaningful to others outside the classroom, and giving students more creative control and more flexibility in the solutions they create. The project is evaluated by performing a concurrent, outcome-based assessment of the teaching infrastructure across the duration of the project.

Broader Impact: The immediate impact is that first-year computer science students are able to create applications whose style is indistinguishable from the modern web applications they are using daily. Further, connecting activities to externally meaningful problems and allowing students greater creative control works to increase engagement and personal investment in learning. By making materials available to others under an open source license, and by actively disseminating results via a community website, others are able to similarly increase the attractiveness of their first CS offerings. The growth in relevance the project enables is specifically intended to increase recruitment and retention of women to CS who, as prior research indicates, are more likely than men to study computer science as an enabling technology for meaningful pursuits in non computer science domains.

Grant Institution: National Science Foundation

Amount: $160,500

People associated with this grant:

Godmar Back
Stephen Edwards