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A flexible approach to introductory programming : engaging and motivating students

Gordon, Neil; Brayshaw, Mike; Grey, Simon


Mike Brayshaw


© 2019 Copyright is held by the owner/author(s). In this paper, we consider an approach to supporting students of Computer Science as they embark upon their university studies. The transition to Computer Science can be challenging for students, and equally challenging for those teaching them. Issues that are unusual – if not unique – to teaching computing at this level include • the wide variety in students background, varying from no prior experience to extensive development practice; • the positives and negatives of dealing with self-taught hobbyists who may developed buggy mental models of the task in hand and are not aware of the problem; • the challenge of getting students to engage with material that includes extensive practical element; • the atypical profile of a computing cohort, with typically 80%+ male students. The variation in background includes the style of prior academic experience, with some students coming from traditional level 3 (i.e. A-levels), some through more vocational routes (e.g. B-Tech, though these have changed in recent years), through to those from experiential (work based) learning. Technical background varies from science, mathematical and computing experience, to no direct advanced technical or scientific experience. A further issue is students’ attainment and progression within higher education, where the success and outcomes in computer science has been identified as particularly problematic. Computer Science has one the worst records for retention (i.e. students leaving with no award, or a lower award than that originally applied for), and the second worst for attainment (i.e. achieving a good degree, that being defined as a first or a 2:1). One way to attempt to improve these outcomes is by identifying effective ways to improve student engagement. This can be through appropriate motivators – though then the balance of extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation becomes critical. In this paper, we consider how to utilize assessment – combining the formative and summative aspects - as a substitute for coarser approaches based on attendance monitoring.


Gordon, N., Brayshaw, M., & Grey, S. (2019). A flexible approach to introductory programming : engaging and motivating students. In CEP '19 Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Computing Education Practice.

Conference Name Computing Education Practice
Conference Location Durham
Start Date Jan 9, 2019
End Date Jan 9, 2019
Acceptance Date Nov 9, 2018
Online Publication Date Jan 9, 2019
Publication Date Jan 9, 2019
Deposit Date Nov 27, 2018
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Publisher Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
Book Title CEP '19 Proceedings of the 3rd Conference on Computing Education Practice
ISBN 9781450366311
Keywords Flexible Pedagogy; Introductory Programming; Gamification; Student Engagement.
Public URL
Publisher URL


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