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Programming lab-practicals

Written by: gcw - Posted in: Uncategorized - Tags:


I have had the pleasure of teaching COSP8 at LBCC this fall, which is a nice change of pace. Teaching at a for-profit school means I don’t have as much oppourtunity to design curriculum as I’d like and with this class I was given free reign. Unfortunately as this was my first time teaching this class, I mostly stuck with the book (a great book, by the way) and didn’t develope my own materials as much I would have liked.

One area I really wish I had spent more time with was the development of good programming projects. I’m not the only one who sees the importance of it, or the difficulty in creating good ones. I have had three issues this semester with my projects:

I’m wary of early projects that make heavy use of libraries.  I find (anecdotally) that when students don’t understand what they’re working with they don’t feel as satisfied with their results, even when those results are impressive.

This is an issue with a Visual Basic class. Any  program requires the entirety of the .NET framework. Even HelloWorld requires labels and forms and buttons (oh my). This leads to a lot of “hand waving,” that is waving your hands and saying “it’s magic!” That makes it much harder for the students to learn.

A second issue is that a good project should build on other projects and work that students have been doing in the course. My projects this quarter have done that to a degree, but in a really haphazard way. Now that I have an idea of where the class ends ends (in terms of knowledge and skills) it seems pretty obvious how I could have done better in designing projects that build.

And my final problem has been the large disparity in ability and preparation of my students, which is a commonality of teaching at a community college. I have some students who have taken years of programming and are just getting a few more credits to transfer to a University and I have some students who have never done anything more technical then send an email. It is not impossible to accommodate students across this continuum, but it does limit my options and forces me to lay objectives out in an ascending scale (with lots of extra credit).

With all that said my real challenge is designing a lab-practical. It has all the challenges of designing a long term project along with

  1. Ensuring that it covers all the course objectives
  2. Can be finished within 2 hours

And all this ignores creating an assignment that makes sense. While that is not a requirement, it is nice if the students can imagine what their code could be used for instead of giving them a series of “Do this, now do that…”

I’ll be spending some time this week trying to work this out….


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