In the past decade my research and teaching have been strongly connected, and that’s never been more true than for my most recent project. A colleague and I worked in the past 18 months to create a linked-courses learning community for first-year students who are required by their major to take the Python courses. We’ve already written several articles about the project, so I’ll keep the details here sparse. Our FECS article described our initial plans. The SIGCSE article talked about the baseline data we gathered in the Python courses. And an upcoming ITiCSE article discusses initial results. Happily we found that the linked-courses learning community had made a significant difference in attitudes among participants, with students in the two courses reporting that they felt supported and felt like they were a part of a community of programmers. The initial results are good enough that we’re trying to run it again this fall.
But I also have to confess that it was a lot of work. The logistics of trying to get 20+ students enrolled in two classes during their first quarter are difficult, and arranging the extra activities was exhausting. At times my colleague and I both felt that the project wasn’t worth all the work we were putting into it, especially when we failed to fill the two classes and only had a handful of women in the community. Even more discouraging was that only seven of the students followed me from the first to the second Python course. While the numbers speak of success, it didn’t always feel that way on the ground.
So something that happened yesterday was a much-needed boost. After the final exam for the second Python course I walked down the hallway toward my office and walked past five of the learning community students who had just finished their exam. They were talking among themselves, discussing the solutions to the problems. One of them exclaimed: “I need a hug!” And they all, without fail, ignored me, not because they were upset but simply because they were completely absorbed in their group. And those five seconds made it feel like the work had been worth it because they were busy supporting each other just like we had hoped when we put the project together. They won’t have me or my colleague moving forward, but they’ll have each other. And that’s what we wanted all along.