Community Engagement Project

As part of the Digital Education Leadership (DEL) master’s program at Seattle Pacific University, we have been studying the ISTE Standards for Coaches.  Recently, we have examined the different Digital Age Learning Environments and how these environments support the student’s learning experiences.  I have been teaching computer science at a community college for the past two academic years.  I recognized some shortcomings in my student’s learning experiences.  Specifically, I noticed that a significant percentage of students were not obtaining the coding skills needed to be successful outside of the class room.  Students were not well prepared to answer coding questions they would likely face in a job interview.  Group coding projects often failed due to poor communication and project management.

The DEL Community Engagement Project gives me an opportunity to explore this issue and turn it into an opportunity for professional growth.  The project asks us to create a professional learning presentation that we will present at an education conference.  I have chosen to present this topic in a 1-hour session at the Computer Science Teacher’s Association (CSTA) 2020 Annual Conference.

As part of my project, I wanted to learn from my peers whether they had similar experiences in their classrooms and what things are they doing to improve the learning experience.  Three other computer science instructors at my institution agreed to form a Faculty Learning Community (FLC).  At our first meeting, the other FLC members stated that their students were also not achieving the expected level of coding skills in both individual and group projects.  The FLC instructors were in the process of making changes to address these issues.  We agreed to share our approaches, and use an iterative model to zero in on the best learning experience for our students.

Diagram showing the identify, propose, implement/test iterative cycle of the Faculty Learning Community
FLC Iterative Model

The FLC moved on to discuss an approach to improving student’s coding skills.  We realized that we needed to create a more active and engaged learning environment in which we spend less time lecturing and more time writing code in the classroom.  This led us to consider a flipped classroom approach.  Several of the instructors had tried this in previous quarters, asking students to read the text book and view lectures at home, and then come to class prepared to tackle a coding assignment typically given as homework.  This approach did not succeed due to students coming to class without reading the text or having read the text with little to no comprehension.

Two of the FLC instructors that had run into this issue tried something different in the last quarter.  Both instructors used an interactive textbook (ZyBooks) for home assignments that asked the students questions after each module to assess understanding.  The instructors got a report of which students completed the modules and how they performed on the questions.  Since students could try the questions multiple times until they got the correct answer, the instructors used the interactive textbook for participation points only.  Both instructors got feedback from students that the interactive textbook provided a much more active and engaged learning environment than a traditional text book.

ZyBooks Example
ZyBooks Example

This led to a discussion about assessment.  As I mentioned, the students have a goal of getting a job at the end of their studies.  Another FLC instructor found a web site focused on helping interviewers pass job interview coding questions (LeetCode).  The instructor could pick interview questions that were content specific to the class – i.e., Java, C++, C#, or SQL interview questions.  The instructor used this web site to assess students coding skills and to discover which students needed more work on their coding skills.    This site also fulfilled the instructor’s need for a better way to assess a student’s skills beyond the simple pass/fail of the interactive textbook or traditional quiz/exam.

Example interview question from LeetCode
LeetCode Example

The last issue addressed by the FLC had to do with student collaboration and communication during a group project.  Software developers in industry rarely work alone, so it is important that students learn how to work well in a group.  One of the FLC instructors had come across a relatively new tool from GitHub – the web site used to manage computer source code for a team.  The GitHub folks had recently launched a new web site to support students in a school setting – GitHub for Education.  The web site provides teacher-facing tools that use the GitHub commands to enable the GitHub workflow for education.  The web site allows a teacher to see which students are active in a GitHub classroom repository.  The tool gives students a way to collaborate and communicate on project source code, eliminating a lot of collaboration and communication issues found in typical group coding projects.

Example of GitHub commit
GitHub Example

We concluded our first FLC meeting by agreeing to flipping one of our classrooms in the fall quarter, using the ZyBooks, LeetCode, and GitHub Classroom digital tools as appropriate.  We agreed to meet during the quarter as needed, and then meet at the end of the quarter to review what went well and what needs more work.  I will present the results of our fall quarter implementation at the CSTA 2020 Annual Conference in July 2020.  Although I will have to submit a proposal by September, 2019, my FLC will be able to get a full academic year of implementation and testing on our flipped classroom approach before the CSTA conference in July 2020!

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