F10-SP3-1 - WIP: An exploration into the muddiest points and self-efficacy of students in introductory computer science courses

3. Research Work In Progress
Monique Ross1 , Daniel Perez1, Leila Zahedi1, Laird Kramer1, Tiffany Vinci-Cannava1, Jia Zhu1, Maria Charters1
1 Florida International University

WIP: Computing is pervasive, and it is growing in virtually all sectors of the economy, academic disciplines, and aspects of modern life. The broad opportunities in computing, both in the labor market and for enabling a host of intellectual pursuits, continue to be drivers of increasing enrollments in undergraduate computer science (CS), from both majors and non-majors. While there will probably be fluctuations in the demand for CS courses, demand is likely to continue to grow or remain high over the long term. This growth in demand coupled with students’ desire to find lucrative jobs deemed in demand have resulted in a surge in enrollment globally. One southern public institution is no exception to this surge.  Currently, CS enrollment at this university is upwards of 2,500, up from recent years. High enrollment coupled with performance metrics that focus on four-year graduation rates exacerbates the challenges in introductory programming courses that have an average pass rate of the last eleven years of  64% which is below the worldwide average pass rate of 67.7%. It is worth nothing that pass rates vary considerably with lows of 23.1% and highs of 96%. While this university case has managed to increase pass rates from 41% to 64% in the past ten years with the introduction of some variation of active learning and learning assistants, there is still room for improvement. One proposed solution is to identify concepts of difficulty and student misconceptions in introductory programming courses in order to develop targeted interventions for students. With the support of one instructor in summer and fall 2019, we collected data related to the “muddiest point” and self-efficacy via a mobile application link presented at the end of each class. “Muddiest point” is one of the simplest tools to help assess where students are having difficulties. The technique consists of asking students to identify: “What was the muddiest point in [the lecture, discussion, homework assignment, etc.]?” This allows students to provide immediate feedback on what was most challenging in the course that day. With an n=81 this research study used self-efficacy as the theoretical framework to better contextualize students perceptions of self-efficacy in relation to concepts of difficulty and anchored by the performance metric of final grades. Results suggest that 43.2% of students reported a decreased self-efficacy over the course of the semester, 22.2% reported an increase in self-efficacy, and 34.6 % remained neutral. The muddiest point varied from week to week; however, the student-identified muddiest point at mid-term was “loops” and at finals was “files reading and writing.” Capturing the concepts of difficulty over-time provides insight into what concepts require additional time and/or supplemental materials and opportunities to practice complex concepts. Likewise, gathering the snapshots of self-efficacy through out the term allows us to correlate concepts with self-belief and could aid in better course design.