Research & Innovations

Professor Leen-Kiat Soh
Professor Soh's work in CS education consists of two primary areas: understanding learning and instruction in CS education and computer-aided education.  Motivated in large part by Professor Soh's desire to understand and model how students learn, collaborate among themselves, and interact with computer-aided education systems, in order to build better agent-powered systems to improve student learning, Professor Soh has been involved in several CS education research and development projects in the past ten years.  These projects have led to course materials, curricular designs, and program changes, and numerous studies regarding learning and instruction in CS education.

  • First, with the Reinventing CS Curriculum Project, we found that cooperative groups attained higher achievement than did those in the individual, direct instruction approach; however, structured and non-structured cooperative learning did not make a difference in student learning in lab settings.  We also outlined ten strategies for revising and implementing introductory CS courses.
  • Second, with the Renaissance Computing Project, we re-organized the CS1 and CS2 curricula at UNL to create numerous contextualized CS1 courses to address different student backgrounds.  We found that students in STEM fields taking required CS courses adopted motivated strategic self-regulation profiles and that impacted their learning behavior and performance. The strategic self-regulatory profile adopted by students made a substantial difference in long-term retention of course content.  Long-term retention of information and subsequent development of an expert knowledge base appeared to require adoption of the strategic or knowledge-building profiles. These profiles can thus be used to focus interventions to enhance students’ motivation and learning, which may be especially critical in required, foundational courses where students may be unmotivated.  This could in turn help increase student enrollment and retention in such courses.
  • Third, the Intelligent Learning Objects Guide (iLOG) project yielded a set of learning objects for CS1 subjects and research on their impact. We observed that scores on LO assessments were significantly higherfor students who had active participation with exercises in the LO compared to students who simply watched the exercises.  Our results supported the use of exercises with active learning in LOs on CS education. We also found that the use of LOs can yield comparable student learning performance as hands-on lab activities and that elaborative feedback had a positive effect on students with high motivation and self-efficacy.
  • Fourth, the IC2Think project innovatively incorporated creative thinking skills into CS to help students learn, created a suite of creative competency exercises, and conducted educational studies of their impact.  We found that the incorporation of creative thinking exercises based on Epstein’s creative competencies can improve learning of CS topics.  We found a linear “dosage effect” with student completion of each additional exercise increasing retention. We believe that the exercises impact student achievement and learning because they make students deal with computational principles and skills abstracted from coding. We also discovered that, while literature has shown that setting performance and mastery approach goals, persisting in the face of difficulty, and academic achievement are all positively associated with retention in CS and even other STEM courses, possessing an entity theory of intelligence is associated with a decrease in all of these factors influencing retention.  This finding has important implications.  It is important that CS educators explore the relationship between entity theory of intelligence, and persistence in CS-related courses, and investigate the impact that this can have on retention in order to better design their courses, assignments and activities. 

Professor Soh's work in computer-aided education  has been to develop agent-powered software systems to support instruction and learning, and investigating their impacts on student learning and instruction, especially in CS courses.  

  • First, we developed an intelligent tutoring system called ILMDA using an agent that learns from its own experience interacting with student users to adapt CS contents and exercises for each student, and subsequently improve its adaptation over time via case-based reasoning.
  • Second, we also built an agent-powered learning objects management system called the Intelligent Learning Object Guide (iLOG), that is the first of its kind to capture empirical usage metadata and metatag each learning object on CS topics accordingly for the metadata to be leveraged in subsequent learning object usage.
  • For computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL), we have primarily focused on designing multiagent algorithms to form student teams to improve student learning in classroom use. I have developed several CSCL systems such as I-MINDS, ClassroomWiki, and The Written Agora.  Our study suggested that that the Jigsaw process in I-MINDS environment allowed the students to achieve similar or improved collaborative learning performance compared to face-to-face collaboration.  We further updated I-MINDS with more advanced multiagent team formation that considered complex interplays of human factors (e.g., comfort level, proficiency, changing behavior over time).  Then, we developed a second prototype called ClassroomWiki specifically for collaborative writing.  We found that agents were able to track and model students’ actions to create student groups that were more effective and efficient compared to randomly formed student groups in upper-division CS courses.  Recently, we have developed a third-generation system called the Written Agora that incorporates Web 2.0 features for social interactions and is capable of delivering learning objects, surveys, and assessments. 

As part of innovations in outreach activities, we also created a diversity program called the Girl Empowerment and Mentoring (GEM) project (2008-2012).  The project aimed to inspire middle and high school students towards computing in post-secondary education by (1) empowering them with skills and interest for IT, and (2) mentoring them to improve their self-efficacy and motivation for a career in IT. 

Professor Steve Cooper
Professor Cooper is interested in the learning and teaching of programming. He has a particular affinity towards interdisciplinary projects, as he enjoys borrowing ideas and approaches from other disciplines (or from other areas within computer science) and figuring out how to best apply them to CS.

See his past and present research projects for where his interests currently lie. But, he is always interested in sitting down with students to discuss their ideas!