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Computer Science Department Colloquium

10 Things That Yield Happier Students and Better Learning Outcomes in Lower-Division CS/CE Courses


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Tuesday, October 09, 2018, 01:00pm


In 2012, a group of professors, frustrated by high fail rates in lower-division computer science/engineering courses nationwide, set out to replace existing textbooks and homeworks with new learning content created natively for the web. Six years later, their content for over 15 CS/CE courses is currently used by 600 universities and 450,000 students, and growing.

This talk introduces the web-native learning content, with a typical "book's" reading portion consisting of hundreds of animations, thousands of interactive learning questions, and aggressively-minimized text. Auto-graded homework exercises, like small coding problems, are also integrated throughout. We summarize research published over the past four years, showing improved learning outcomes and better grades, and freeing lecture time for more examples, student activities, flipping, etc. We analyzed how universities give points for completing the reading activities and show that only a few course points (about 5 of 100) is sufficient to get over 80% completion rates. We show that most students use the content earnestly, with only a 3% "cheat the system" rate. We show that ultra-concise text can yield even further student learning improvements. We show that simplifying an intro course via fewer tools/logins, a simpler syllabus, fewer announcements, concise text, etc., yields happier less-stressed students.

The talk also discusses instructor-created auto-graded programming assignments that can be added to online learning content. In particular, with the ability for any instructor or TA to create such assignments in under 30 minutes, we argue for intro courses to change from the traditional one-program-per-week approach to a many-small-programs (MSP) approach. We ran a controlled study spring 2017, with one 80-student section using MSP, plus a 70%-full-credit threshold and collaboration allowed as well. Students were happier/less-stressed, and performed better on exams (and continued to do well in the next course). Ultimately, interactive content and auto-grading enables new ways teaching lower-division CS/CE courses.

Speaker: Dr. Frank Vahid


Frank Vahid is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of California, Riverside. He received a B.S. in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois in 1988 graduating with highest honors, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of California, Irvine in 1990 and 1994, respectively, where he was an SRC Fellow. Since 1990, he has co-authored over 150 conference and journal papers, including the best paper award from IEEE Transactions on VLSI in 2000, a DATE conference best paper award, and a DAC conference best paper nomination. He is author of several textbooks, including "Programming Embedded Systems" (UniWorld 2010), "Digital Design" (Wiley 2006, 2e 2010), "Embedded System Design" (Wiley 2001), books on VHDL and Verilog (Wiley, 2006), and "Specification and Design of Embedded Systems" (Prentice Hall 1994). He received the Outstanding Teacher of the UCR College of Engineering award in 1997 and the College's Teaching Excellence Award in 2003. He was formerly Chair of the Faculty of Engineering at UCR. He was program and general chair for the IEEE/ACM International Symposium on System Synthesis in 1996 and 1997, respectively, and for the IEEE/ACM International Workshop on Hardware/Software Codesign in 1999 and 2000. He has been on the steering committee of Embedded Systems Week since its inception in 2003. He is a senior member of IEEE. He has worked as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard and for AMCC, and has consulted for Motorola, NEC, Atmel, AMD, Freescale, and several other companies. He has served as an expert witness and consultant in several embedded systems patent cases. He is the inventor on three U.S. patents. His research has been supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Semiconductor Research Corporation, Philips, Motorola, Xilinx, Intel, TriMedia, NEC, and the U.S. Dept. of Education, among others, totaling over $4 million. His current research includes software/hardware design for cyber-physical systems, in-home assistive monitoring technology is aid live-alone senior citizens, and technology to combat drunk driving. Recently he co-founded Zyante Inc. (zyante.com), which is reinventing lower-division university engineering, math, and science education via new highly-interactive web-native materials that replace textbooks and homeworks, and can also form the foundation for online courses.

Location : CoRE A 301


James Abello

Event Type: Computer Science Department Colloquium



University of California, Riverside & zyBooks co-founder