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Low-Performing CS Students Struggle With More Than the Material


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student with head in hands at laptop computer

Women who pursue computing in college are retained at lower rates than White and Asian men.

Credit: Getty Images

Researchers at the University of California San Diego conducted a broad student experience survey to learn which factors most impact student success in early computing courses, a field that has historically seen high failure rates and poor student retention. They found that lower performing students reported higher stress levels on multiple factors — including cognitive, socioeconomic, and personal — than higher performing students, indicating that when students struggle, they are often facing headwinds on multiple fronts. 

The computer scientists describe their findings in "Understanding Sources of Student Struggle in Early Computer Science Courses," presented at ICER 2021, the 17th ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research. 

The research suggests that successful interventions should target multiple areas of student stress, instead of focusing only on addressing a single issue. 

"Students are struggling with a lot of things across the board," says Adrian Salguero, a computer science Ph.D. student at UC San Diego and first author of the paper. "Many students, especially those who are lower performing, appear to be struggling with more issues apart from just not understanding the material. They're also reporting things like work obligations, feeling like they don't belong, or don't have the confidence to feel comfortable in the class."

Over 70% of students in the lowest quartile of final exam performance reported high levels of stress due to at least one of the four identified factors, compared with just 30% in the highest performing quartile. Over 50% of students in the lowest quartile report high levels of stress for two or more factors, while half as many students in the next higher quartile report struggling with multiple factors.

From University of California San Diego
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