T9-FY3-4 - Directing Incoming CS Students to an Appropriate Introductory Computer Science Course

3. Research Full Paper
Leo C Ureel II1 , James Heliotis2, Mireilla Bikanga Ada3, Mohsen Dorodchi4, Victoria Eisele5, Megan E. Lutz6, Ethel Tshukudu3
1 Michigan Technological University
2 Rochester Institute of Technology
3 University of Glasgow
4 University of North Carolina
5 Front Range Community College
6 University of Georgia

Full Paper. A wide variety of computing content is covered (or not) in primary and secondary school courses. While many schools offer college preparatory or advanced placement courses in computing, there is still, unfortunately, a large part of the “college-ready” population that has no opportunity to learn computing at all before they arrive. Regulation of CS education at the state/province or national level is still rare (but growing). Thus incoming students possess a wide range of skills and knowledge. When coupled with increasing enrollments, this diversity of experience can result in courses having large numbers of both absolute beginners and seasoned coders. Such courses are difficult to teach, intimidate novice students, and bore those with more experience. This can result in low engagement and retention. Unlike mathematics and language arts, introductory courses in CS vary widely from one institution to another in both conceptual material and programming language used. A standard point of entry to college mathematics is a calculus course, with some students instead starting earlier with pre-calculus or an algebra refresher, and others starting out in the second-term calculus course. There is rarely a concern about student skill being hidden by notational or other language differences, because the language of mathematics is close to universal. Similarly, freshman language arts courses in reading and/or writing assume a certain level of skill and maturity of comprehension and expressiveness in the target language; otherwise remedial courses are provided. We investigate placement of incoming first year students into appropriate introductory computer science courses at  higher education institutions where there is more than one choice of first course. The goal is to determine the best way to decide which first course would be the most helpful for each student starting in their major. We discuss the following issues that often must be considered when deciding the entry course for incoming students: The main assessment tools that are in use at the current time are (1) a standardized test such as the College Board AP exam, (2) a credit-by-exam (CBE) option, where students take something akin to an actual final exam, (3) a self-assessment-of-experience survey, or (4) personal interviews.  We conclude that placement strategies are often determined by the unique requirements of individual institutions. We describe the placement procedures implemented at a handful of schools. Finally, we make some recommendations for schools who wish to develop or revise their placement policies.