COS 160: Course Assessment

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1 COS 160: Course Assessment Student Responses from Focus Group Sessions Spring 2005 Office of Academic Assessment University of Southern Maine Spring 2005

2 Introduction The Computer Science department was interested in revising and revamping the introductory course in computer science (COS 160). Students who were currently taking COS 160 in the spring 2005 semester or those students who took the course the previous semester in the fall 2004 were asked to attend a focus group session to obtain their perspectives and suggestions on how the course could be improved. Students who could not attend one of the five focus groups scheduled were sent an questionnaire asking for their feedback about COS 160. Seven (7) students attended the focus groups and five (5) students responded to the questionnaire for a total of 12 responses. Out of these 12 students; 6 students took the class last semester, and 6 students were currently in the course. The student responses to the questions are listed below. The actual student responses are listed as bullets under each question; when the student responses were so similar with little variation, the responses were summarized (*) after the questions. Questions and Student Responses 1. Do you feel that this course is worth your time and effort? (actual responses) Previous COS 160 students: Yes, it s a worthwhile course. Yes, but you need some background before its worth your time. Yes, because I wanted to learn java software. Yes, but the effort that you have to put into the course is way above other 100- level courses. Not sure, the effort was worth it, because I am an engineer major and I don t see the value of learning java to this extent for my major; but yet it is a required course for engineer majors. Not really worth my time and effort, I dropped the course last semester because I could not keep up the pace of the course. I had 4 other 100-level courses which were also time-consuming; like Chemistry, Calculus, College Writing, and an Engineering course. I put equal effort into all my courses, but COS 160 required more effort, so I had to drop it, so I could get my homework done in my other courses. I probably will take it again but it will have to be when I don t have any other courses. 2

3 Current COS 160 students: Yes, I guess the course is worth my effort because it is a required course for my major, but I am glad I have some background in programming because I know some students are struggling who have not had any computer programming background. No, I think the course is way over my head. I was going to drop the course this semester, but decided to try to finish it instead. I need the course for my major in Engineering, but I know I will never use this in my engineer field. Yes, its worth it if you want to learn java. Personally, I think the course should have a prerequisite stating that: some background in programming is preferred instead of saying: no background is necessary. Because, it is necessary to keep up the pace of the course. No, I did not have any java experience prior to the course, and trying to learn java without any support is very difficult. The course is definitely designed for those who understand the process and not for beginners just learning the language. I am not sure the course is worth it. I would like to learn this language and I am interesting in computer programming, but if I cannot get this language learned well in one semester, then maybe I should decide not to be a computer science major. This is the type of course that takes more time (than given) to really get a grasp at what you need to do. The course does not allow a good amount of time to practice, because it is so fast-paced. The course is only worth it for those who already know something about java or other programming languages before taking the course. The students who have taken some other programming course at another school appear to catch on quicker than the rest of us. 2. What is the time spent per week on the course? (*summarized responses) * all students said you need a minimum of 10 hours a week, but many times you have to put more time in to finish all the assignments. * most students indicated that they are putting or did put in as much time as they have; they have(or had) to still put time into other courses or other responsibilities. a. Do you feel that this course demands too much or too little time from you? * students who had background experience in programming felt that the course demands were similar to other 100-level courses. * students with no background experience in programming felt as if the course demands much greater time than other courses. 3

4 b. What course activity takes up the most time? * all students said homework. * a few students said.trying to understand how to do the homework. c. Are there ways to reduce the time you spend on some of the course activities? * all students said.no or not really if you want to get a decent grade. 3. What parts of the course do you find the most difficult? (actual responses) Previous COS 160 students: Expectations of assignments. Description of the projects. Lab class and course time were not integrated; different homework. The expectations of a entry-level student and our learning curve was unreasonable. If you don t understand one assignment, then you might as well forget about the rest of the assignments it was easy to get far behind. Homework was difficult because we were not taught the nuts and bolts of how to do the assignment, we had to figure it out, there was no support for help. Current COS 160 students: Homework is the most difficult in the course because there is homework from class and homework to do for the labs; the labs should be practice time and a place to get help and further explanation of how to do the homework if you get stuck. There is a homework assignment due every week and it takes all week to get it done and then you have another assignment, there is no room to breathe and take in the learning, it s a frustrating experience because there is not time to digest the material before you move to the next thing. The course is difficult because there is no visual presentation or step-by-step process of how java programming works; there should be more presentations on de-bugging and explanation of what is going on step-by-step; then once that is understood then I think most of us in the class could figure our homework out. 4

5 Homework is way too difficult.and there are not tutors who can really explain it. If you go to a tutor, it s easier for them to do it for you than to explain it so you still are not learning what you need to learn. The most difficult thing for me is the time it takes to understand how to do the homework, I spend so many hours working on homework and looking at resources and not really making the connections of exactly what I am doing. The course teaches us basic concepts, but we are not taught how to do the assignments. I find the course very fast-paced, with unreasonable time frames to understand and thoroughly finish assignments, and it is very frustrating to find someone to further explain parts that you don t understand. Sometimes I don t even know what questions to ask until I am in the middle of an assignment and there is no one to ask for assistance. 4. What improvements could be made in this course to help you learn the material better? Previous COS 160 students: The tutors or people that could help us if we get stuck should be introduced to us at the beginning of class and tell us what hours are available to get help. Turn the course into a nuts and bolts course. For example, there is only concepts taught and not enough practical application. Just because you take a course in auto mechanics, it doesn t make you an auto mechanic; you may be able to label the things under the hood but you can t take a car apart and put it back together after one course, it takes a lot of practice and repetition. This is how I feel about computer programming. Same idea. You could improve the course by changing the course so that it is really for beginners and don t expect us to learn so quickly something that has never been taught to us. The expectations in the course are totally unreasonable for someone with no background in programming. You need another type of course for non-computer science majors, that teaches us just the basics of programming but not the specific details of java. They have Chemistry and Biology courses for non-science majors and there are other majors who have set-up a course for those of us interested in some knowledge but not extreme details. The course was so fast-paced that it was really hard to grasp all the material and feel confident that it was learned. This course could easily be a part one and part two type of course, over two semesters, which would help students fully integrate the course material 5

6 Current COS 160 students: After a project or assignment is completed, we should go over the details in the class or discuss it more in-depth. The class time would be a lot more productive and helpful because it would help me see my errors and misunderstandings. The exams are not reflective of the homework and the lab. There are huge discrepancies on where to focus our learning energy. The assignments for the class and lab are different than the examinations; it is three worlds instead of an integration of material. Lab instructor is excellent, but the lab time is not a good use of time. We should be able to use that time to do the homework and get help on assignments. That is how labs are used in other courses, you breakdown your learning more in detail and it helps you get a better picture of the course material. Slow down the course. Luckily, it s not just me who is struggling with the time it takes to understand the course material. The course is not really helping anyone because there is such a push to get all the homework done, and it seems as if no one really cares if we understand what we are doing. Give students a chance to learn one thing before going on to the next thing so quickly. Class is too fast-paced for a beginner and is too demanding for a 100- level course. The course should be a least a 200-level and some experience required before taking it. 5. What obstacles or road blocks have you experienced in the course? (*summarized responses) Students gave a combination of these answers: * lab time is not used efficiently, lab time does not mirror class time, labs should not have different homework. * managing homework is the biggest obstacle. * not enough assistance, or tutor availability. * not enough time to grasp course material. 6. The course materials are met to be delivered in several ways: via the text, via the lectures, via the homework assignments, via the labs, and via the web. (*summarized responses) Students gave a combination of these answers: * all of the different ways have helped them learn. * reading the book helps with the class lectures. * the online resources are very helpful. * the variety of methods is important in learning a language. 6

7 7. What is your perception of the instructor? (*summarized responses) * instructor was good teacher and knowledgeable. * instructor was approachable, and helpful. * instructor is not the problem, it s the curriculum. * instructor is good about answering questions on blackboard. * instructor does not have enough time to explain things in detail. 8. Are you aware of the expectations of this course? (*summarized responses) * expectations are stated but not made very clear, only a quick presentation during the first class. * expectations of homework are unreasonable or ridiculous. * expectations of each assignment should be addressed more frequently, instructor does not understand the basic level of learning a programming language. 9. Is the course coherent to you? Do you see a unifying theme or does the course seem to be a collection of random facts? (*summarized responses) * the course is a conceptual or theory course. * the course is not integrated; no theme, no time to see how it works or how things connect. 10. How do you feel about the text of the course? (*summarized responses) * good text, some parts are hard to understand. * good text, but does not help with homework assignments. * they used the text regularly, but its not always clear. 7

8 11. Are you aware that you receive credit for all homework that is turned in, even if the work is late, not complete, or inaccurate? (*summarized responses) * no, you only get partial credit. * you have to do the homework almost perfect or you don t get much credit. 12. Does this course fit in well with the rest of the educational experiences on campus or in your life? (*summarized responses) * five students said no, this course does not fit into my life goals. * two students said the course fits with their major field. * five students said not sure if the course actually fits into their major goals. 13. Do you need additional help in this course? (*summarized responses) * needed extra help; but didn t have much luck with tutors, or other classmates. * they actually received some extra help, but not enough. * one student said...not really, worked on the course by myself. 14. What makes you continue with the course? (*summarized responses) * that having learned a little programming prior to the course prevented them from dropping the course. * course is required for their major. * two students said..they did drop the course with a W-grade and will have to take it later when they don t have as many other courses or responsibilities. 8

9 15. Would you recommend this course to other students? (*summarized responses) * seven students said.they would recommend it to students who have taken some other programming language course. * five students said.they would warn students about the amount of workload first, and the time commitment involved in this course, and especially not to save homework until the last minute because it takes hours and hours. 16. Are there any other comments you would like to make? (actual responses) Previous COS 160 students: Working in groups might be a good way to learn the material, so students can help each other understand. Some lab assignments take an enormous amount of time and worth very few points, a bit unfair, I think. I tried to decide if they were worth my time since it accounted for such a little part of the overall grade. The level of this course jumps from 0 to 60 in 4.2 seconds, its no wonder half the class was lost in space most of the time. Current COS 160 students: Breakdown the class into two courses, one with concepts and the other with practical applications too much for both in this course. The course has been over my head, and I have always been a very good learner. The java software in the computer lab is different than the one being learned in class, why is there a discrepancy between our book and the computer lab version? I am glad to have had taken the course this semester with the two breaks, which helped me catch-up on the course work, but I know a few students who took the course last semester and said it was terrible in trying to keep up, and I thought this semester was bad enough! There should be an option to take an in-depth programming COS course and a COS course that teaches just some of the basic concepts without detailed programming. The online visual presentation was very helpful, more of these things in class as a group would be productive; and more discussion in class about programming details. 9

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