Patterns of Problems in CS education: perspectives from a reformed lecturer

After several decades of teaching computing using lectures, I am a reformed lecturer and only teach based on the principles of active learning. This does not mean that I do not include lectures as part of my teaching tools. It means that I have come to appreciate the benefits of starting from the concept of active learning, rather than starting from improving engagement during my lectures. This appreciation was realized when we adopted the concept of pedagogical design patterns to identify best practices in our active learning in CS education. A design pattern is a generalized representation of pairs of problems and solutions. Design patterns appeal to those that want to improve their teaching by addressing the problems they experience in practice. Design patterns are also an easy way to describe how to fix specific aspects of the teaching and learning experience: describe a specific problem (students fall asleep in lectures) and a simple solution (keep the lecture short and interspersed with activity).

We decided to compare our active learning patterns to other pedagogical design patterns in CS education and found that a majority of the published patterns are about improving lecture-based teaching. On closer inspection, we saw that many of the same problems appeared in the lecture-based patterns as in our active learning patterns: students don’t remember what they hear in a lecture, students come unprepared to the lecture, students don’t pay attention in a lecture. The difference is that the patterns for lecture-based CS education are about improving the lecture. The solutions in our patterns have a different starting point: make it social. Engage the students in activities that lead to the social construction of knowledge with their peers.

If you start with the premise that active learning is about enabling the students to learn from and with each other, then you think more deeply about setting up the classroom experience to be about activities that rely on communication and interaction among students. This leads to ideas such as lightweight teams, mini lectures on demand, and peer pressure for students to do the preparation before they come to class.


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