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Teaching Java and Abstract Data Type Semantics with Multimedia*


Glenn David Blank, Associate Professor,

William M Pottenger, Assistant Professor,

G. Drew Kessler, Assistant Professor,

Edwin J. Kay, Professor,

Computer Science and Engineering Department

Lehigh University

19 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem PA 18015


CIMEL is a multimedia framework for Constructive and collaborative, Inquiry-based E-Learning supplementing computer science courses. Constructive learning goes beyond learning by receiving knowledge, to learning by building systems, with immediate, visual feedback. Collaborative learning encourages students to interact with instructors and librarians, via live links and remote-controlled “show me” sessions and by reviewing multimedia FAQs of recorded “show me” sessions. Inquiry-based learning guides the student into pursuing exploratory research in a community of students and scholars. A text mining and visualization tool also enables students to identify and explore emerging technology trends in computer science as part of our inquiry-based framework. Our project documents, evaluation materials and a prototype are available at


Within this framework, we have developed alpha versions of new materials for two courses in computer science at quite different levels: a graduate level course in Object-Oriented Software Engineering (OOSE) and a first semester course in computer science (CS0/1).   New multimedia modules, implemented in Flash and playing through high-speed connections on the web, feature audio narration, animation, simulations, quizzes, and constructive exercises.  Two different experiments have been developed to evaluate the new materials.


              For the OOSE course, we developed a multimedia unit on Abstract Data Types (ADTs), as a way to formalize the meaning of classes in connection with 
object-oriented design. In the past, graduate students have found it difficult to master this material from lecture and textbooks alone.  We have designed an experiment 
to determine whether multimedia actually improves learning, both in terms of objective knowledge and ability to perform a task, designing ADTs for a sample problem 
involving several classes and inheritance.  We divided the 20 students into two groups, A and B.  Both groups took the same pretest of 20 questions, with questions 
and choices presented in random order.   Then group A studied the multimedia.  Then both groups took a mid-test, consisting of 20 questions, each covering similar 
topics as the original set, again with questions and choices presented in random order.  (Both groups took the mid-test so that the practice effect could be accounted 
for in our analysis.)  Group A performed significantly better, with mean scores improving from 9.2 to 15.6, while group B showed no change.  The difference between 
groups was highly significant, F(1,20)=42.23, p<0.0001.  Both groups then heard a lecture on ADTs and assigned reading from relevant chapters in a textbook 
on reserve at the library.  Then both groups were given an assignment, creating ADTs to solve a problem involving several classes, inheritance and dynamic binding. 
After handing in their assignments, Group B saw the multimedia.  Then both groups were given the opportunity to resubmit the assignment.  Our hypothesis was 
that Group B would be more likely to resubmit the assignment with improvements.  Several students did so, but the overall results were not statistically significant, 
F(1,40)=3.25, p>.05. Both groups then took a post-test of another 20 questions.  Group B improved significantly, while Group A’s performance remained the 
same as the mid-test, as measured by a test for the group-x-test interaction, F(2,60)=7.77, p<.001.  This result suggests that the multimedia contributes to objective 
learning regardless of whether it is presented before or after the lecture, and could conceivably be used independent of lecture.   The results for task learning are 
less clear, but the study has provided useful input about improvements to the multimedia; more guidance will come from a web-based survey evaluating the alpha 
version and a focus group.  


For CS0/1 (CS0 for non-majors and CS1 for potential minors and majors), we have revised both the manuscript and multimedia of The Universal Machine: A Multimedia Introduction to Computing (McGraw-Hill 1998), tentatively retitled The Universal Computer: A Multimedia Introduction to Computer Science and Problem Solving in Java. As the new title suggests, the new material introduces Java (instead of C++).   This fall, students in the introductory course at Lehigh University began using the new material, with five of the six proposed chapters introducing Java programming and all ten other chapters on problem solving, software engineering and the breadth of computer science.   To evaluate the new material, we divided students into two groups: an experimental group (80% of about 50 students consenting to participate) getting access to all materials (the complete new manuscripts, the old multimedia associated with The Universal Machine, and new multimedia for five chapters on Java programming associated with The Universal Computer), while a randomly selected control group (20%) gets everything but the new multimedia.  We are comparing performance of the two groups, with respect to performance on actual Java programming assignments and examinations, as well as a pretest (administered at the beginning of the course) and a posttest (near the end), consisting of the same 30 multiple-choice questions, with questions and choices presented in random order for each participant.  A survey solicits feedback from the students with respect to the user interface and content of the new multimedia.  Demographic data has been gathered in order to track performance and feedback of different subgroups, such as women and minorities.   We will present the results of this study at the SIGCSE conference.


Preliminary versions of our collaborative learning and emerging trends detection tools have also been developed and studies evaluating their effectiveness are under way.  We plan to share results of these studies at other conferences.


We plan to conduct another experiment evaluating a beta version of the Abstract Data Type module next semester, in a class of sophomores and juniors.  We also plan to develop new modules for both the OOSE and CS0/CS1 courses.  Beta versions of the multimedia, as well as a revised draft of The Universal Computer, will be available for use in courses at other educational institutions, in the fall of 2002.  Any parties interested in evaluating our materials for possible adoption should contact the lead author.


* This project is funded by National Science Foundation (Grant No : EIA-0087977)