Virtual Computer Science Bridge Course !

The computer science bridge course (German: Vorkurs Informatik) is offered by the Computer Science Department of RWTH Aachen University. In this course, the students learn fundamental concepts of programming and apply them by collaboratively solving exercises as a group. While working on the exercises, the students are supported by their respective tutor.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year the bridge course was adapted to an online-only format. Formerly, the programming concepts were taught in short lectures that were now replaced by videos. One of the major challenges of an online format was to support the collaboration between the students. This collaborative work is on the one hand a key contributor to the learning outcome and on the other hand an important opportunity for new students to meet fellow students, which is known to be an important success factor for their studies. We realized online tutorials with group collaboration using the MS Teams video conference platform with dedicated rooms for each tutorial where the students could collaborate in small groups via video conferences as well as chats and get help from their tutor at any time. We further created rooms for different fields of study in order to further support the possibility to meet fellow students.

This year was also the first time we used a tool that we recently developed at our Research Group in a thesis project, which is called ProCoMon. It allows the students to automatically check their solutions on a button press. In the past, the students had to ask their tutor if they wanted a solution to be checked. Since the tutor is supporting multiple students, the feedback was often not immediate, which slowed down the learning progress. Further, the tutors spent time on checking the student programs rather than with supporting the students’ learning effort. With the newly introduced tool, this was improved.

With this setup in place and the support of 25 student tutors we were able to offer 350 students access to the tutorials. We faced a high demand that exceeded the offered seats and requests from many students that wanted to attend the course but could not attend the tutorials at the given time. Since all course materials were accessible online, we were able to provide these students with access to the digital course room only, allowing them to complete the course on their own. This way, 340 additional students had access to the course. Thus,  computer science bridge course  supported a total of 690 students from all faculties.

 

The tutorials were concluded by a live event that we call the “Obstacle Run Competition“. The students applied their learned knowledge to implement a program steering a player from the left side to the right side of a field while avoiding obstacles. Numerous groups of students participated in this competition and followed live how their player was moving over the field.

Some impressions

All in all, the computer science bridge course was positively assessed by the students. Especially the support of the student tutors was appreciated. These are some comments (in German) given in the final evaluation:

“Ich finde es gut, dass die Tutoren regelmäßig in die “Räume” kamen um zu schauen, wie es bei uns läuft. Und es wurde immer gut geholfen, auch wenn es Fragen waren, die erstmal banal erschienen.”

“Mir hat es  besonders gut gefallen, dass der Betreuer sehr begeistert vom Thema war, das hat folglich die Motivation der Gruppe verstärkt. Den Stoff fand ich auch sehr interessant und es war so, dass man sehen konnte, was für praktische Anwendungen dieser hatte.”

“Sehr gut strukturiert, viele gute & abwechslungsreiche Aufgabenstellungen, die sogar Spaß gemacht haben”