Friday, September 3, 2010

APCS Principles Course Development at UCSD

In an earlier post I discussed the new APCS Principles Course and the terrific opportunities it provides for integrating interdisciplinary subject matter and social issues with computing - aimed at a broad audience.  One of the pilots of the course is being conducted this year by Beth Simon at The University of California San Diego. I have agreed to work with Beth on this project. Although I will be collaborating wherever needed, my particular emphases are currently in two areas: lab development and evaluation / assessment.

This pilot poses some exciting challenges. First of all, Beth will be delivering twice weekly lectures to approximately 750 students. Yes, 750. The students will be from two very different audiences: one group will be upper division Psychology students and the other will be freshmen who may end up majoring in any area.  Most have not currently expressed a preference for computing (otherwise they would likely be enrolled in the CS1 course). All of the students are required to take this course. Students will be seated in three adjacent lecture halls. Using various pedagogical techniques that Beth has been refining over several years, including innovative use of clickers to create dynamic interchanges between student and instructor, this pilot will aim to demonstrate that the Principles course can be scaled to the largest of classroom audiences.

Among other things, Beth and I have discussed the need to integrate social and ethical issues into the course rather than take a typical and known to be ineffective approach of tacking them on somewhere such as the last week of class. This is an area where I will be heavily involved, starting with the labs I am developing. I intend to write a weekly update of our progress with this course. Although I will discuss anything interesting that comes up, I shall often focus on our progress with including interdisciplinary and societal issues within the course.

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