A CS1 pedagogical approach to parallel thinking
Almost all collegiate programs in Computer Science offer an introductory course in programming primarily devoted to communicating the foundational principles of software design and development. The ACM designates this introduction to computer programming course for first-year students as CS1, during which methodologies for solving problems within a discrete computational context are presented. Logical thinking is highlighted, guided primarily by a sequential approach to algorithm development and made manifest by typically using the latest, commercially successful programming language.
In response to the most recent developments in accessible multicore computers, instructors of these introductory classes may wish to include training on how to design workable parallel code. Novel issues arise when programming concurrent applications which can make teaching these concepts to beginning programmers a seemingly formidable task. Student comprehension of design strategies related to parallel systems should be monitored to ensure an effective classroom experience.
This research investigated the feasibility of integrating parallel computing concepts into the first-year CS classroom. To quantitatively assess student comprehension of parallel computing, an experimental educational study using a two-factor mixed group design was conducted to evaluate two instructional interventions in addition to a control group: (1) topic lecture only, and (2) topic lecture with laboratory work using a software visualization Parallel Analysis Tool (PAT) specifically designed for this project. A new evaluation instrument developed for this study, the Perceptions of Parallelism Survey (PoPS), was used to measure student learning regarding parallel systems.
The results from this educational study show a statistically significant main effect among the repeated measures, implying that student comprehension levels of parallel concepts as measured by the PoPS improve immediately after the delivery of any initial three-week CS1 level module when compared with student comprehension levels just prior to starting the course. Survey results measured during the ninth week of the course reveal that performance levels remained high compared to pre-course performance scores. A second result produced by this study reveals no statistically significant interaction effect between the intervention method and student performance as measured by the evaluation instrument over three separate testing periods. However, visual inspection of survey score trends and the low p-value generated by the interaction analysis (0.062) indicate that further studies may verify improved concept retention levels for the lecture w/PAT group.
0714: Science education
0984: Computer science