First day: Start strong, avoid “Syllabus day”

On the first day, I start strong: I warmly welcome students, share my passion for the subject, and excitedly jump into the material. If it’s intro to programming, I open a coding window and start coding. I include media, interactions, group activities, and humor (well, my attempt), so the first day looks like future lectures. I do go over the syllabus […]

Less Is More: Students Skim Lengthy Online Textbooks

View the original Journal Publication by C. Gordon, R. Lysecky, and F. Vahid.

Computer science textbooks with lengthy text explanations of concepts are often considered thorough and rigorous, so lengthy textbooks (and class notes) are commonplace. Some, however, suggest text should be concise because people tend to skim lengthy text. This article takes advantage of modern digital textbooks that measure reading time to examine reading rates for various text passage lengths. For a widely used CS textbook written in a nonconcise style, students read shorter passages (200 words or less) at about 200 words per minute, which is a typical rate. But for longer passages (600 + words), the rate increased to about 800 words per minute, suggesting skimming rather than reading. For another widely used CS textbook, from the same publisher but written in a concise style with text passage sizes kept below 250 words, students spent more time (around 200 words per minute) reading the text passages, and their time spent was well correlated with text length, suggesting students were carefully reading rather than skimming. Across three digital textbooks, the more interactive elements (e.g., integrated questions) that were included, the more time students spent reading the text between those activities. The conclusion is that to best educate students, authors of CS content should take the extra time needed to explain concepts more concisely—a case of “less is more”—and incorporate many active learning opportunities.

Theory to Practice: Reducing Student Attrition in Online Undergraduate Math

View the original Journal Publication Jacquelyn Kelly, Alex Edgcomb, Jim Bruno, Chelsea Gordon, Frank Vahid

Researchers have developed numerous effective theory-based practices for teaching undergraduate general education mathematics (UGEM); however, many universities have struggled for decades to close the gap from theory to practice. This gap contributes to the national lack of skilled STEM workers. Recently, an all-online university closed the gap by shifting their philosophical framework for UGEM from traditionalist methodology to a synthesis of seminal theories and practices. This paper disseminates the implementation of theory-based practices in UGEM toward reducing student attrition (withdraw or fail), including: Rationale for theory identification, construction of a philosophical framework, collection of stakeholder input, implementation, evaluation, post-implementation maintenance and communication, and institutional socialization of the new paradigmatic shift. These efforts yielded an attrition reduction from 17.5% to 4.7% in Quantitative Reasoning 1 (QR1) and from 13.9% to 4.0% in QR2. A key reported outcome is a blueprint for an institution to similarly close the gap.