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Communications of the ACM


Guiding Students to Develop Essential Skills

female students in science lab

Credit: Monkey Business Images

Recent surveys4,10 indicate that employers seek candidates with broad "professional" skills in communication, teamwork, information processing, critical thinking, and problem solving. At the same time, faculty often feel pressure to "cover" more course content and feel there is not enough time for students to learn key concepts and also develop these skills. Faculty also feel students are disengaged, do not ask or answer questions, and struggle to think critically and solve problems. What more could faculty do to help students engage in the classroom, master content, and develop important skills?

Imagine a classroom where student teams actively collaborate to process information; think critically about problems; identify and evaluate possible solutions; and share insights and questions with each other. This starts on the first day of my first CS course, when students with no programming experience use a number-guessing game to develop key ideas in algorithm complexity analysis (see description in Simon et al.11). This continues through advanced courses such as artificial intelligence and programming languages. A graduate noted this approach "actually prepared me with hands-on experience in performing tasks that I was immediately required to complete when I began my job. The practice … gave me a noticeable edge during my internship that led to me being hired."


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