Big Idea: Professor Finds New Way of Teaching Computer Programming

Brad Vander ZandenBrad Vander Zanden, a professor in electrical engineering and computer science, developed a big idea to help beginning computer science students.

Vander Zanden created a program to use in Computer Science 102 that gives students an easy way to enter computer programs and test them in class. It is a simplified introduction to the type of programming that professionals do.

With help from three senior computer science students, Vander Zanden created a website where students answer questions by writing computer programs. The website immediately grades the answers by running the program to see if it works.

“Students’ attention spans are not nearly as long as they once were,” Vander Zanden said. “I had to find a way to get students more actively involved.”

In addition, he uses a “flipped classroom” approach. He assigns students to watch online videos of his lectures from previous semesters outside of class. He uses class time for discussion and exercises.

He says this approach prevents students from becoming bored during lectures because they can watch them in shorter segments, if they choose. Also, they have more time for hands-on work in class, which he says is essential to learning computer programming.

For his efforts, Vander Zanden has received a Creative Teaching Grant from the Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center. The grants are awarded to instructors who innovatively change the way they teach. They receive $5,000 to implement their ideas.

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