IJava: Robert Moll

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--Thiebaut 16:06, 26 November 2012 (EST)

Robert Moll
Department of Computer Science
University of Massachusetts
Amherst MA 01003

iJava is an online interactive textbook for elementary Java instruction. Its principal feature is an embedded evaluator, which means that throughout the text students are asked to solve simple coding problems that reflect textbook material. The text is integrated with a remote-server-based automated homework system and learning management system - the OWL system.

The iJava text is online, and is organized around a set of ~ 175 embedded questions. These are mostly very simple coding problems. They are tied to the surrounding text. The work cycle goes this way: a student reads a few paragraphs, and then works one or several exercises that are tied to the just-discussed material. Since problems are easy, answers come quickly, students are patted on the back, and - most importantly - material leading up to the embedded problems has been read. The embedded problems have a due-date, and to ensure that students keep up, students get triple extra-credit for timely completion. Kids in computer classes are maniacal about "points", and by and large they can't resist a triple credit offer.

iJava runs from a remote server (right now at UMass) and on that server records are kept of every action a student takes, for example how many times a particular problem has been attempted, when attempts were made, and what those attempts are. The embedded question component is the crucial and unique feature of iJava - no other book, to my knowledge, works in this way. The four figures below illustrate how these problems work. However the book also relies on a number of other interactive features that make the book more lively - short movies, mouse-over interactions, and so forth.

In addition the book is supported by a corpus of 200+ automatically graded homework problems. These regular (and generally more difficult) problems are divided into weekly problem sets that are tied to chapters in the book. Results here too are recorded on the remote server.

While the class is demanding, it has greatly improved retention rates for our introductory Java class. Only 8-20% of students do not pass my final exam. Finally, the class has done a good job of: 1) making student more effective readers of technical materials (most students do indeed read the book); 2) making students independent learners - less than half the students ever come to lecture, since the book is sufficient for most students to learn Java on their own, and on a final survey, more than 55% of students said the course did indeed make them better independent learners; and 3) arousing and keeping students interested in programming - though computer science majors make up just 20% of my beginning class this term, roughly 50% of the class has signed up for our next CS class, Data Structures.

Robert Moll is Associate Professor and Associate Chair for Academic Programs in the UMass Computer Science Department. He is the author of five CS texts and two children's books, He holds a PhD in Mathematics from MIT (1973) and has had a long-standing interest in CS teaching and instruction. The first three chapters of the textbook can be viewed at http://ijava.cs.umass.edu/


Copyright is held by the author/owner.