Using programmed instruction to help students engage with etextbook content
The material taught in a Formal languages course is mathematical in nature and requires students to practice proofs and algorithms to understand the content. Traditional Formal Languages textbooks are heavy on prose, and homework typically consists of solving many paper exercises. Students need to read a significant amount of text and do practice problems by hand to achieve understanding. Electronic textbooks have many useful methods to display the content to students. However, unless carefully designed, students abuse these methods to earn grades without studying the content carefully. Inspired by the principles of the Programmed Instruction (PI) teaching method, we seek to develop a new Formal Languages eTextbook capable of conveying Formal Languages concepts more intuitively. The PI approach has students read a little, ideally a sentence or a paragraph, and then answer a question or complete an exercise related to that information. Based on the question response, students are permitted to continue on to other frames of information, or must retry to solve the exercise. Our goal is to present all algorithms using algorithm visualizations and to produce auto-graded exercises to let students demonstrate understanding. To evaluate the pedagogical effectiveness of our new eTextbook, we plan to conduct time and performance evaluations across three offerings of the course CS4114 Formal Languages and Automata at Virginia Tech. The time spent by students looking at instructional content with text and visualizations will be compared with time spent using PI frames to determine levels of student engagement.
Mohammed, M; Rodger, S; Shaffer, CA
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