Introduction of Python to Freshman Engineering Students
Chao Wang and Ira A Fulton, both of the Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, found that designing and implementing a four-week Python module to teach programming basics to freshmen yielded a range of positive results and surfaced some unique challenges.
Teaching the Basics of Python
Wang and Fulton’s module focused on teaching students how to use Python to manipulate and process images, music, and video. The lectures included demos, exercises, and extra credit assignments to reinforce the concepts taught in class.
Much of the course was built by leveraging prior work on teaching programming through multimedia applications and provides an overview of the Introduction to Engineering course at Arizona State University.
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Positive Yet Mixed Results
At the end of the module, a survey was given to the students to measure their motivational responses to the lecture activities. The survey included a self-determination index (SDI) to represent students’ overall motivation, and an end-of-semester survey was given to gather feedback on the module. The survey results showed that students had a positive attitude toward the Python module and found it helpful in their learning.
However, some students experienced less motivation due to a lack of knowledge regarding programming basics.
An Evaluative End-of-Course Survey
The researchers issued an end-of-semester survey completed by 98 students, which included five questions on the Python module:
- The first question is related to prior programming experience, and around one-third of students had no programming experience, with female students having a higher percentage.
- The second question was about learning programming basics, and 71% of all students felt that the Python activities helped them learn the programming basics at least moderately.
- The third question focused on the difficulty level of Python in-class activities, and 71% of all students responded that the in-class activities were at least moderately difficult.
- The fourth question was about the fun applications of Python through multimedia approaches, and 70% of all students responded that these were at least moderately fun.
- The fifth and final question is related to future use, and 73% of all students responded that what they learned would be at least moderately useful.
The report concludes that a sense of mastery, self-efficacy, interest, and enjoyment is positively correlated to higher motivation in learning Python.
Future improvements will include teaching the basics, providing more support, and holding students accountable. Overall, the module was seen as a fun and useful introduction to the programming language. Dig into the full paper to learn more about the impact of a Python course on new engineering students.