Improving pass rates by switching from a passive to an active learning textbook in CS0

Dawn McKinney, Alex Daniel Edgcomb, Roman Lysecky, Frank Vahid

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Undergraduate degree programs in computer science have struggled with student retention and outcomes; some solutions focus on improving introductory courses, such as CS0. This paper reports on one such approach: Switching from a passive to active learning textbook, which uses animations, learning questions, and simulators, along with text and figures. The Fall 2017 offering had 73 students and used a passive textbook and a standalone flowchart simulator. The Fall 2018 offering had 76 students and used an active learning textbook, including integrated auto-graded homeworks and integrated flowchart simulator. The primary change in the course was to the textbook; the courses had the same experienced instructor; similar quizzes, exams, and homeworks; and similarly-prepared students based on ACT scores and previous programming experience. Various metrics were measured; most crucially, the pass rate significantly increased (p-value = 0.04) from 78% (57 of 73 students) in Fall 2017 to 91% (69 of 76 students) in Fall 2018. In Fall 2017, 10 of the 16 students that did not pass changed majors, whereas only 2 of the 7 did in Fall 2018. The course grades increased from 84 out of 100 points in Fall 2017 to 87 in Fall 2018; the largest categorical increase (p-value < 0.001) was homework from 71 out of 100 points in Fall 2017 to 88 in Fall 2018. Students were surveyed about the course; significant findings turned out to be that Fall 2018 students found the homework to be clearer but harder than Fall 2017 students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number835
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jun 22 2020
Event2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference, ASEE 2020 - Virtual, Online
Duration: Jun 22 2020Jun 26 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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