Experiences Teaching a CS1 Common Course across 7 Institutions

Published 2024


Frank Vahid
University of California, Riverside

Ashley Pang
University of California, Riverside

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We describe our experience organizing and teaching a CS1
“common course” pilot across 7 institutions during the 2023 spring
term. A common course is a comprehensive centrally-designed
course taught nearly identically across multiple institutions. It
goes beyond common inter-institution sharing of ideas and
resources, and instead is essentially the same course taught by
different instructors, akin to multiple coordinated sections of a
course at one institution. We describe the experience of 7
instructors who voluntarily joined the pilot, which included
instructors at 5 state universities and 2 community colleges. The
common course’s comprehensive design included a 15-week
configured CS1 C++ online zyBook having weekly interactive
readings, coding homeworks, programming assignments, and
quizzes (all auto-graded); a midterm and final exam; a syllabus
with schedule, grade weights, policies (late policies, cheating
policies, etc.); support for teaching active lectures including
detailed lecture notes and coding examples; and bi-weekly
meetings among the 7 instructors plus an informal shared TA.
Overall, the courses went smoothly for students, and the
instructors all strongly indicated they benefited from the
experience, and would do it again and recommend it to others.
They listed key benefits to include time savings (which freed them
to perform higher-value, more enjoyable tasks), state-of-the-art
tools and pedagogy (like auto-grading and active lectures), the
coding examples in the lecture notes, the ability to compare their
students’ performance to others, and the camaraderie and idea
exchanges at the bi-weekly meetings.

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