User spotlight: Dr. Nelly Cardinale, Eastern Florida State College

The year was 1979, the screen was black and the text was orange. This was the year Dr. Nelly Cardinale purchased her first computer, an Apple II.  It came with four textbooks on programming and nothing else.  “If you wanted to do anything on the computer back then, you had to do it yourself,” Cardinale explains. “There were no apps or programs.  You had to write your own.” She taught herself the Applesoft Basic Programming language, and Nelly’s passion for programming was borne.

In January 1994, shortly after the Internet was available to the general public, Dr. Cardinale began teaching the Pascal programming language. Later that year, a second version of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was released. At that time, the college where she taught did not even have a website. She collaborated with a former college professor, who opened up the first Internet Service Provider (ISP) in her area, and made arrangements to give her students their first live Internet presentation. Not only did her students attend, but so did some of the college’s faculty, staff and administrators.

Fast forward to 2015. Dr. Cardinale is now a fully tenured Professor of Computer Science at Eastern Florida State College. She is a certified CompTia A+, Network+, and Linux+ Professional. She teaches two Principles of Programming classes during the fall and spring semesters – one during the day and the other in the evening.

This is the first time Dr. Cardinale is using a zyBook to teach programming, and it is really making a difference. “The minute I opened a zyBook, I was hooked,” exclaims Cardinale. Prior to using a zyBook, her students used two traditional textbooks to learn programming, and Cardinale always hoped for more.  Because she is using a zyBook, she now sees her students engage and have fun the way she does when she is programming.

“You don’t learn programming by reading, you learn programming by doing,” says Cardinale. The interactivity inside the zyBooks keeps her students engaged and keeps them coming back for more.

Halfway through the semester, Cardinale took stock of her two classes and realized that she still had 100% retention in one class and 80% retention in her other one. “I have never seen these types of retention rates in any of my programming classes during my 23 years of teaching! And yesterday, while looking out over my classroom, I realized all students in my Principles of Programming classes were completely engaged in the Python zyBook chapters.”

In both of Dr. Cardinale’s classes, she alternates lecturing out of an algorithm book on a zyBook topic one week and then working together with students in class the following week on the zyBook chapters. “In both classes, all students are passing,” reports Cardinale. “And I really feel that the zyBook platform is making the biggest difference.”

Dr. Cardinale assigns 10% of the overall grade for completion of assigned Participation Activities and 15% of the overall grade for completion of the Challenge Activities inside the zyBook.  She has students do the zyBook assignments while in class, but she also reports that some of her students go above and beyond what she requires and complete more advanced zyBook chapters by themselves.

“A big surprise for me,” Cardinale explains, “was that none of the students seems to be struggling to understand the material or write the code that the book is asking them for. In the zyBooks, students can program right on the platform. It automatically grades all exercises and gives students hints on how to do each programming problem, and students get immediate feedback.  The zyBook platform also animates the computer programming steps being processed by the computer, which is something that professors cannot do during regular class lectures.”

Dr. Cardinale likens the zyBook platform to the equivalent of providing an individual programming tutor for each of her students. “They can learn new skills, apply them on the spot, right on the book platform, and get immediate individualized feedback and hints for solving programming problems,” she explains.  “As a professor, I cannot help them in this way during regular class time and still accomplish the goal of teaching the objectives for the course.”

As great as her experience with zyBook has been, Dr. Cardinale does have one concern over using zyBooks:  “I worry about the other professors teaching computer science that are not yet using zyBooks.  They’re going to have a problem on their hands when they try to hand a textbook to a student accustomed to the fun of a zyBook.”