Differentiating for Comfort with Computer Science: More Challenge, More Support
As computer science courses grow, instructors may find it increasingly difficult to meet all learners where they are, offering more-experienced students appropriate challenge and less-experienced students sufficient support to become more experienced themselves. In this lightning talk, we present how we’ve differentiated the instruction and assignments in CS1, our university’s introductory course for majors and non-majors, to support the growing variability we see in students’ comfort with computer science. We share how we group students in sections according to their comfort levels, with additional support for those less comfortable in the form of smaller sections. We also share how we designed the course’s problem sets for less-comfortable and more-comfortable students alike, ensuring both groups have adequately challenging “floors” and “ceilings.” Our future work includes strengthening support for students who identify as “least comfortable,” whose secondary schools have not prepared them for studies in computer science or college more generally. We also plan to address questions about assessing students of varying comfort levels, which we presently accomplish through score normalization across comfort levels.