"I believe the insights gained on student performances has allowed me to identify changes needed at the curricular level which will better serve women and minorities in the class."

Course: COMP110 Introduction to Programming

Department: Computer Science


This redesign process has made me more critical of how I spend my time in lecture. It has increased my comfort levels with letting students work independently in lecture for longer periods of time. It has also made me more aware of the challenges first generation and minority students face. This awareness has led to looking more carefully at student data to look for trends in performances and to identify students who need additional support or encouragement.

These changes help foster a community and nurture engagement that has effectively supported FGCS. I believe the insights gained on student performances has allowed me to identify changes needed at the curricular level which will better serve women and minorities in the class.

Course Description

This year COMP110 will serve over 1,000 Carolina undergraduates. Starting this Spring, I will be the instructor of record for the course and serving 550-600 students in the upcoming semester. Next semester these numbers will likely increase further.

This course is aimed at students with no prior programming experience so it is considered an introductory level course in computer science.

One of the biggest challenges to meeting course objectives is designing the course in a way that scales instructor interaction despite my being a single instructor. I believe the key to this, as demonstrated by other introductory programming courses at institutions like Brown and Harvard, is by adopting an apprenticeship-like undergraduate TA structure that allows students who successfully completed the course and continue on in the major to serve as mentors and learning assistants. Out of necessity, I am implementing this in an ad-hoc fashion this Spring, but ideally a more deliberate and structured approach will be designed for the Fall.

Projected Design Elements

1. Not-quite-flipped classroom – I would like to make more learning/training videos available for asynchronous consumption outside of the classroom. These would be Khan-esque 10 minute pieces as opposed to lecture-esque 60 minute talks. I believe this content could be driven by a combination of myself and the undergraduate teaching assistant staff to offer a variety of perspectives.

2. Daily Practice Technology – One of the biggest areas for improvement I see in my course is increasing the amount of practice students get with the process of programming. Fundamentally, programming is a learned skill just like playing an instrument or a sport, and practice is the best way to develop an understanding and command over the art.

3. Group Activities in Class – This Fall I tried to do in-class exercises as frequently as possible, however, they were largely done by students individually. I would love to find ways to increase group collaboration and interaction between peers both in class and outside of class.

Incorporated Design Elements

I began my redesign over the summer with a focus on doing more active learning exercises during lecture. I also wanted to substantially modify the second half of the semester’s material. The focus would be on working with data in code.

For the first half of the semester, where the material was very similar to last semester’s, I did a much better job of working in Poll Everywhere questions. As I got into the new material and realized it needed to be tweaked in real-time, I did a poorer job in Poll Everywhere.

I’m teaching the same course again in the Spring and will continue with the work and goals began this semester. I’m confident through this process we’ll arrive at a very complete course!

Finally, undergraduate TA’s were utilized to enhance the learning experience.

In the end:

1,600 students
12,813 one-on-one office hours appointments
> 2,700 e-mails sent
67 undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs)
52 Fall 2017
56 Spring 2017
208 applications for 35 UTA team openings
4 head UTAs
1 Instructor

We were able to make it so that someone on staff knew every student on a first name basis. Office hours were held for 50+ hours each week, and e-mails were responded to within a 24-hr time window. Every student in the class was assigned a pair of UTAs for the semester.

Program: Finish Line Project

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