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Integrating Interactive Computer-Based Learning Experiences Into Established Curricula: A Case Study

Anne Morgan Spalter Department of Computer Science Brown University, Box 1910 Providence, RI 02906 ares @cs.brown.edu

Rosemary Michelle Simpson Department of Computer Science Brown University, Box 1910 Providence, RI 02906 rms @cs.brown.edu


Educators who wish to integrate interactive computer- based learning experiences into established courses must contend not only with the difficulty of creating quality digital content but with the often equally difficult challenge of reconfiguring their courses to use such materials. We describe our experiences with the Exploratories Project at Brown University 8 and the use of exploratories in an introductory computer graphics programming course 4. We offer examples of both success and failure, with the goal of helping other educators avoid both painful mistakes and lost time spent coping with unforeseen logistical and

pedagogical concerns. Among planning can't begin too early

the lessons we for the integration

learned: of such

materials into an established curriculum, and methods of integration should be considered mitting to any specific approach.

all possible before com-

C++/Software Engineering course is highly recommended. The course meets twice a week for one-and-a-half hour lectures. Optional help sessions, run by the undergraduate teaching assistants, are offered for each assignment.

While assignments are programming assignments - there are no exams or tests - recently the course has used home- work assignments to review student's algorithm designs.

For over a decade, we have experimented with different approaches to bringing specific interactive materials into the course without disrupting its flow. Early work was all done with custom 3D development environments 8 and use was restricted to our computer graphics research lab. In 1995, we started the Exploratories project, which primarily uses Java applets. An exploratory is a combination of a exploratorium and a laboratory, a 2D or 3D microworld designed to help teach a specific concept or set of related concepts. While materials creation is essential, the long-

1 Introduction

Educators are intrigued by the potential for computer-based learning tools in their classrooms and put a substantial amount of time and energy into creating or locating impres- sive tools. However, there is often a "field of dreams" belief--a conviction that "if we build it, they will use it," i.e., if the material is compelling students will jump at the chance to use it. Unfortunately, our research and experi- ence indicate otherwise. Tool integration into ones' curriculum, especially into long-established courses, can be just as challenging as making materials in the first place. In this paper, we discuss our experiences integrating a set of interactive computer-based learning experiences into an introductory computer graphics programming course at Brown University.

The ref,

course, Brown University's Computer has approximately 70 students each

sophomores and juniors. Prerequisites include

Science 123 year, mostly one of

Brown's full year CS introductory sequences, and a

term goal Handbook

of the project is to based on the mining

create a Design Strategy of our own and others' ex-

periences. patterns (as

The Handbook includes guides, templates, in Gamma et al's object-oriented "Design Pat-

terns" 9), selection, materials.

and examples intended to guide teachers in the creation, and deployment of interactive learning

The material presented in this paper represents one set of experiences and will be incorporated into the Handbook.


Related Work

The attempt to integrate technology into the classroom is not a recent development. While we don't think of black- boards and pencils as technology, they were viewed as such when they were invented. During the last century, each major new technological invention--radio, movies, televi- sion, and more recently the computer--has had advocates

predicting a revolution in ual projects, such as the

education. While some individ-






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ITiCSE 2000 700 Helsinki, Finland © 2000 ACM 1-58113-207-710010007


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promises 5,

and there are claims that the attempt is misdi-

rected in any case 10.

Although we may be seeing the birth of a truly new form of education, as the economic demands for just-in-time, dis- tance, and lifelong learning combine with widespread


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