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Enhancing student engagement in a theoretical computing unit

The Education theme of the CIC is focused on the development of staff and student awareness, skills and capabilities for computational and data-driven solutions to multidisciplinary problems.

Theoretical computing unit math example


A program of study concerning the theoretical models of computing was seen as exceptionally difficult by students and had become very unpopular.  Yet the computational knowledge and skills in the unit were considered vital to workplace success. So a significant course re-design was undertaken by Hannes Herrmann based upon student feedback and his insights into the specific challenges the students were encountering. Among the outcomes of the unit, students needed to understand the relevance and need to engage with formal mathematical proof. The course needed to align its assessment with the revised approach to teaching the topic. In addition, the challenge included how to foster higher levels of student engagement and improve the pass rate while focusing on the more complex and necessary parts of the disciplinary work.


Hannes elected to shift the emphasis of the unit from abstract formal proof towards problem classification and he utilized a challenge-based learning approach to help students establish the proof that their classifications were valid. The new assessment plan involved a series of problems to be classified along with proofs of validity. The course now uses a mixture of mathematical problems, computing problems and problems that reference popular issues such as games and world events.


Students now show higher levels of engagement and satisfaction, backed by evidence in eVALUate responses with positive dispositions. While the pass rate in the unit has remained steady, students have increased their mean and median scores for the unit. Importantly, students who have entered the workforce have contacted Hannes to discuss problems that have cropped up that are related to the unit. Positive commentary now appears on the student associated Facebook page, which many graduates continue to follow after entering the workforce.