Project 'learning by coding'

Students test out new programming concepts.

All students studying computer science or a related subject would probably like to have fun and success in programming accompanied by good support. The "Learning by Coding" project aims to ensure that these expectations are met. To this end, the programming lectures in the first year of study were fundamentally revised and rethought, accompanied by didactic evaluations and the development of a supporting technical infrastructure.

Technological skills, such as software development and programming in particular, are key factors for successfully mastering the digital transformation and are therefore becoming increasingly important in all degree programs. The "Learning by Coding" project, which was funded by the Stifterverband and the MWK with around 40,000 euros in 2023, focuses on improving the basic programming courses. To this end, innovative concepts were developed that are no longer based on traditional frontal teaching. Self-paced learning, peer learning, pair programming and programming with the use of robotics are just a few examples of new methods that were tested and piloted by the two professors Melanie Baur and Sebastian Speiser, with didactic support from Johanna Sedlmair from SkiLL (Service Center for Competence-Oriented & Innovative Learning & Teaching at HFT Stuttgart).

The new first-semester students on the Bachelor's degree course in Computer Science started programming during the preparatory week at the end of September. In an interdisciplinary project assignment, they founded a fictitious start-up that develops self-driving cars. The first-year students first analyzed what expertise is required for this and in which lectures from the computer science course they can acquire this. Then it got practical and the teams developed prototypes of the cars, which were optimized for the fictitious start-up through individual programming. The jury then selected the winning teams (see photos). The challenging project task was very well received by all participants, for example Rafael Lettieri, who "was a big fan of the project task." Deputy semester speaker Miro Liebel also "can only recommend the preparation week. It's a great opportunity to get to know some fellow students and make initial contacts before the start of lectures." But what did the first-year students like most about the preparation week? Lego, as the survey conducted at the end of the week shows (see image). The cars were built using the Lego Spike Prime Education Sets, a very low-threshold and motivating way to get started with block-based programming.

The students not only had fun building creatively, but also used the time to get to know each other better and gain their first insights into the study and examination regulations as well as the course itself - all in all, an extremely successful start to their studies.



The concept and the winning cars were presented at the teaching and learning conference of the Stifterverband and MWK, which took place on 18.10.2023 in the Liederhalle in Stuttgart. Petra Olschowski, the Minister of Science, Research and the Arts of the state of Baden-Württemberg, examined the self-driving cars with the programmed additional features with curiosity.

Students in the first semester of computer science and business informatics now meet weekly in the newly created "Programming Café" to review lecture material together and work on programming tasks in an informal atmosphere. In this informal environment, mentors from the third and fourth semesters are available to clarify open questions and offer targeted support. The peer learning concept was so well received that a larger room had to be found after the first session. After several weeks, the café is still very popular with 40-50 participants.

Both students and lecturers receive further support from a newly created database with exercises, to which all professors in the department have contributed. With just a few commands, tasks with solutions for the desired topics can now be activated for specific target groups.

For the programming lectures in the introductory phase, there are also newly designed and already tested innovative concepts that deliberately move away from the traditional methods of frontal teaching with code on slides and separate practice sessions. The learning units are divided into smaller and more manageable sections with integrated practice activities. This new approach allows students to apply what they have just learned directly in the lecture and immediately see if anything is still unclear. If necessary, the examples are presented directly by the teacher in a development environment. This enables increased interaction with students who often have questions about certain steps in the program or the feasibility of alternative solution concepts.

Jupyter notebooks were used in another lecture. Instead of conventional slides, the students received interactive scripts in which the example code could be edited directly by the students. This form also allows the integration of mini-exercises, which often only require 1-3 lines of code and can be completed in a few minutes.

The newly developed concepts for the introduction to programming aim to enable greater effectiveness, increased interaction and more practical relevance. In this learning environment, the teacher takes on the role of a learning coach who can respond more flexibly to the students' individual programming skills in order to support them in achieving their learning goals.

A final TAP (Teaching Analysis Pol) evaluation carried out by SkiLL confirmed that this teaching concept is well received by the students. It was possible to identify those areas in which changes or adjustments could possibly be made in order to further optimize the courses.

The methods and concepts tested in the "Learning by Coding" project have created the basis for an individualized and more effective teaching and learning environment, which has been very well received by the students. Although the project officially ended at the end of 2023, it will continue in 2024 so that students of all subjects can further develop their algorithmic skills to analyze complex problems, systematically develop solutions and effectively interpret data, a basic skill in the digital age.

The upcoming preparation week in Computer Science will once again follow this approach. With this in mind, we wish all students happy coding!

Publish date: 08. March 2024 By Prof. Dr. Melanie Baur (), Johanna Sedlmair (), Prof. Dr. Sebastian Speiser ()