Learning is enhanced when course materials are relevant to students’ interests and goals, and nothing works better than letting students choose what they want to pursue. When possible, allow students to choose from among a set of problems or assignments, or to choose the topic area to be addressed in a particular assignment.

Some suggestions

Make it their own. The technical requirements stay the same but let students choose the inputs (sound or graphic files, data sources) and/or the form the output takes. The EngageCSEdu collection has lots of great examples!

Be creative with extra credit. The quickest way to add student choice is to incorporate into an existing assignment an extra credit option that challenges students to explore their own application of a concept.

Let students select from a finite list of options. Students do best with bounded, rather than completely open, choices. So within a project or assignment, let students choose a topic or element from a list of possibilities. Ideally, devise the list from actual student input and not from stereotypes or conjecture on what students like.

Examples from the collection

  • Alien Robots!

    In this lab students work either individually or in pairs to create a game of their choosing using the VPython library. To start, students are given a basic program that shows a simple alien with limited control from the user. Students are required to make incremental changes to this program, adding more complex graphics and controls to make a more interesting game. This lab reviews classes and graphics, as well as requiring students to think about the control flow for their game. It is particularly useful for students who are new to classes and need additional practice designing classes, as well as writing methods and debugging code.

    Engagement Excellence
  • 2_Poets: Reading Poetry Backwards – RPB v1.0

    This programming assignment requires students to study, understand, and augment a Python program that (re)writes or “breaks” poems in various “deformed” manners, including printing the lines of a poem in reverse (last line to first line) and with randomized lines. Emily Dickinson wrote in the margins of a book: 'Did you ever read one of her Poems backward, because the plunge from the front overturned you?’ Learning goals include problem decomposition (functions), extending existing code, problem solving with multiple solutions, and building an app to handle a wide range of input texts.

    Engagement Excellence