Redeveloping Michigan Tech’s introductory computer science courses has not been an easy feat. But for Leo Ureel, it’s meaningful work. “It’s about setting the right environment,” he says.
Humans learn best when we communicate with others. We’ve taken what we know works in industry and applied it to the classroom.
In the old model, instructors lectured, then assigned independent tasks. Teaching assistants graded the projects and returned them to students two or three weeks later. In a new model Ureel helped create, students work in groups of two to four to mimic workforce settings. “We are no longer just feeding information. Humans learn best when we communicate with others. We’ve taken what we know works in industry and applied it to the classroom,” Ureel explains.
With support from a Jackson Blended Learning Grant, Ureel implemented a web-based teaching assistant to tighten the feedback loop for students. Students submit code via a web portal and receive instant feedback. “They continue submitting work until they get it right. It’s mastery learning,” Ureel adds.
Authentic Learning Experiences
When first-year Michigan Tech student Lauren Brindley received a Google Ignite Computer Science grant to provide funding for 10 robots, Ureel knew it was an opportunity to provide a rich learning experience for students. “After graduation, it’s likely students will build robots in their careers; we’re providing real-world, hands-on learning from day one.” Ureel is developing inquiry curriculum where first-year computer science students will explore how to program the rover robots to move about the room.
Ureel’s next challenge is to assess each first-year student to ensure they’re in the proper course. “Nonmajors often come in with little to no programming experience; meanwhile computer science majors are off and running, ready for a challenge,” Ureel says. To help several hundred students determine the best courses, Ureel is creating an online course sample so students get a taste of
course content before making any decisions.
Preliminary data indicates Ureel’s efforts are working. “Engagement, retention, and grades are improving.”