Remixing Intro CS Courses to Help Engage a Diverse Student Population

Female Bachelor's Degrees Infographic The numbers speak for themselves. While women earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 2013, they only earned 18 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science. Furthermore, the number of first-year undergraduate women interested in majoring in computer science dropped by seven percent between 2000 and 2014.

There are many possible reasons for these numbers, but as NCWIT Research Scientist Beth Quinn writes in a recent ACM-W newsletter, “Research suggests that the first year experience, especially in introductory computing courses, are important pilot points for retaining women.”

What is EngageCSEdu?

EngageCSEdu Logo NCWIT EngageCSEdu reinforces the importance of meaningful CS1 and CS2 courses as a way to engage a diverse student population and reverse the trends cited above. EngageCSEdu is not an archive; it’s an active, online source where a community of faculty can explore, review, and comment on a vast array of projects, homework assignments, and other teaching materials for intro CS. More importantly, all items are reviewed by CS educators and experts in student engagement and pedagogy for quality and alignment to “Engagement Practices.”

Engagement Practices

By way of Engagement Practices (EPs), EngageCSEdu offers one of the first systematic compilations of research-based teaching and learning practices for CS education. Research suggests that these practices can help engage and retain women in computing, and they are based on three general principles:

  • building student confidence and professional identity
  • building a positive student community
  • helping students understand the relevance of computing to their lives

Users can search EngageCSEdu course materials by EP, and they can also find useful examples, related NCWIT resources, and research supporting the EPs.

NCWIT Engagement Excellence Awards

Reviewers judge materials by authors, and those that make outstanding use of Engagement Practices and are particularly creative or innovative receive the Engagement Excellence designation and are eligible for the NCWIT Engagement Excellence Awards.

Here are a few examples from the Engagement Excellence Collection:

  • Breast Cancer Classifier,” by Bill Punch and Richard Enbody of Michigan State University, introduces students to functions, dictionaries, and lists by making interdisciplinary connections and using relevant, meaningful content.
  • Text Analysis of ‘Green Eggs and Ham,'” by Sarah Diesburg and Ben Schafer of University of Northern Iowa, makes use of interesting content and encourages student-to-student interaction while teaching functions, dictionaries, and lists.
  • Simulating Virus Populating Dynamics,” by Eric Grimson of MIT, teaches problem decomposition, object-oriented programming, and simulation by making interdisciplinary connections, using relevant and meaningful content, and encouraging student-to-student interaction.

Engagement Awards Logo The NCWIT Engagement Excellence Awards, funded by Google, recognizes faculty who are making a difference in their introductory computer science classrooms through excellent and engaging curriculum, and who have contributed to the EngageCSEdu collection. Check out the recipients of the 2015 Awards, recognized for their creative and meaningful contributions that create interdisciplinary connections and engaging classroom experiences, at the awards page.

Want to become eligible for next year’s award?

Contribute the very best of your own engaging resources for intro CS courses at by December 31, 2015. To begin, become a member of the EngageCSEdu community by creating an account. For more information about contributing materials or for general EngageCSEdu inquiries, please contact

NCWIT thanks Google for their generous support of EngageCSEdu.
EngageCSEdu is a project of the NCWIT Academic Alliance.


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