Building a Positive Learning Community in Large Computer-Based Classes

By Joyce Ho

  • Barker, L.  J.  and Garvin-Doxas, K.  (2010).   Making visible the behaviors that influence learning environment:  A qualitative exploration of computer science classrooms. Computer ScienceEducation, 14(2):119–145. The authors describe the defensive communication climate that exists in many computer science classrooms that preclude an inclusive, collaborative and supportive learning environment.  Identification, recognition, and discourage of specific behaviors is necessary to promote diversity and foster community. An example of creating a supporting learning environment for a diverse classroom is presented using a case study in Astrophysics.
  • Carbonaro, A. (2018).  Good practices to influence engagement and learning outcomes on a traditional introductory programming course. Interactive Learning Environments, 535(3):1–8. A peer-assessment based approach for generating ‘useful’ review comments from fellow students. Students are stratified into two categories, higher-level or standard-level based on the teacher evaluation of the first few assignments. Each student is asked to evaluate the work of 5 of their peers, with higher-level students more likely to be paired with higher-level students. The peer-reviewed process encourages students to develop deep learning skills and also improving their programming style.
  • Harris, G.  K., Stevenson, C., and Joyner, H.  (2015).   Taking an attention-grabbing “headlines first!”  approach to engage students in a lecture setting. Journal of Food Science Education, 14(4):136–141. Adaptation of the “Headlines First!” approach common in mass media for use in the classroom to grab the attention of the students.  Benefits of headline stories include the ability to refocus students after an active learning activity, better connection with students, and a gallery of reusable learning material that is less likely to go stale.
  • Hodges, L. C. (2018). Contemporary issues in group learning in undergraduate science classrooms: A perspective from student engagement. CBE Life Sciences Education, 17(2):es3. A diverse literature survey of common group-learning formats.  The group-work formats are evaluated based on the interactive, constructive, active, passive framework of student engagement. The author provides recommendations for optimizing interactive engagement in group learning.
  • Lantada, A.  D., Morgado, P.  L., Munoz-Guijosa, J.  M., Sanz, J.  L.  M., Otero, J.  E., Tanarro, E. C., and De La Guerra Ochoa, E. (2013).  Study of collaboration activities between academia and industry for improving the teaching-learning process. International Journal of Engineering Education, 29(5).1 An assessment of the different collaboration activities between universities and enterprises based on success, cost, and implementation time.  The results suggest that project-based learning activities based on ’real’ projects are useful for acquiring specialized knowledge, technical abilities, and professional skills.  In addition, visits to enterprises or invited talks to have also provided remarkable teaching-learning outcomes.
  • Mulryan-Kyne, C.  (2010).  Teaching large classes at college and university level:  challenges and opportunities. Teaching in Higher Education, 15(2):175–185. A survey of the various approaches taken in a large classroom setting that include the lecture and active learning. Several innovative active-learning approaches are covered, including the formative assessment of course effectiveness and large-group cooperative learning. The limitations to active teaching include the cooperation of the students, commitment of administration and teachers, and the students’ high value on exam preparation.
  • Pieterse, V.  and Stallmann, C.  (2014).   Managing a large tertiary computer science class.   In Proceedings of the Computer Science Education Research Conference, pages 79–90. The authors present a study of infrastructure solutions to help manage a large introductory computer science class (500 students).  Two successful solutions include incorporating online quizzes to verify their knowledge and understanding and offering (optional) practical laboratory sessions and assignments to develop their skills. They also highlight the need to perform careful planning for classrooms with high enrollment.
  • Pon-Barry, H., Packard, B.  W.-L., and John, A.  S.  (2017).   Expanding capacity and promoting inclusion in introductory computer science:  a focus on near-peer mentor preparation and code review. Computer Science Education, 27(1):54–77. The authors introduce the effectiveness of using near-peer mentors (third-year and fourth-year students) for code review in introductory courses. The near-peer mentors meet with the students on a regular basis to promote inclusivity and student retention, while also increasing self-efficacy and fostering community. The authors also present the need to provide training for the near-peer mentors to prepare them for mentorship. While the development of student leadership may be more costly compared to other valuable strategies, peer-mentors offer an approachable, flexible, and creative resource to help students learn the material.
  • Solis, O. J. and Turner, W. D. (2016). Strategies for building positive student-instructor interactions in large classes. Journal of Effective Teaching, 16(1):36–51. The authors collected data from two large classes to investigate 3 strategies available to instructors to achieve positive student-instructor interactions: (1) self-disclosure or sharing of personal and relevant stories; (2) caring leadership; and (3) making the class feel smaller. The results suggest that multiple strategies should be used and consistently to achieve connectedness with students. The authors also discussed remedies to address some of the challenges when employing these three strategies.
  • Turner, W. D. and Solis, O. J. (2017). The misnomers of differentiating instruction in large classes. Journal of Effective Teaching, 17(3):64–76. A study of instructors’ understanding of differentiated instruction that highlights the need to adequate training and professional development on differentiation. The authors share several easily-adopted strategies to incorporate some aspects of differentiation including student choices for assignments and story-telling.
  • Winstone, N.  and Millward, L.  (2012).   Reframing perceptions of the lecture from challenges to opportunities:  Embedding active learning and formative assessment into the teaching of large classes. Psychology Teaching Review, 18(2):31–41. A qualitative assessment of active learning and formative assessment in a large classroom from both the students’ and teachers’ perspective.  Although common active learning involves pair-based work, role-play exercises and formative assessments are more meaningful in larger group sizes. While both teachers’ and students’ view this positively, there are risks that can result in student discouragement or failure.
  • Yang, Y.-T.  C.  (2007).   A catalyst for teaching critical thinking in a large university class in Taiwan: Asynchronous online discussions with the facilitation of teaching assistants. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(3):241–264. A study of the use of asynchronous online discussions to create small discussion groups facilitated with a teaching assistant.  The teaching assistants are trained in Socratic questioning prompts to help promote critical thinking.  The results suggest utilizing the Socratic method yields better quality of critical discussion.
  • Yildirim, O.  (2017).   Class participation of international students in the U.S.A. International Journal of Higher Education, 6(4):94. The author presents a qualitative study from a graduate-level class on the differences between international and American graduate students. Three main differences in the international students are discussed: (1) answering questions that required short answers (compared to longer answers); (2) asking more clarification questions as opposed to discussion-raising questions; and (3) posing questions to international students prior to class so they can organize their thoughts. Improved understanding of the language barriers can help facilitate a more inclusive communication climate.
keywords: Building a Positive Learning Community in Large Computer-Based Classes