IntroCS-POGIL: Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning In Introductory Computer Science

Chris Mayfield
Associate Professor
James Madison University

Need: Numerous studies have shown that student motivation, learning, and retention can be improved significantly through active and inquiry-based learning. Unfortunately, many barriers prevent faculty from seeking out and consistently adopting evidence-based strategies. The IntroCS-POGIL project reduces these barriers by supporting the adoption of Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) in introductory computer science (IntroCS) courses.Guiding Question: Over the past five years, we have studied factors that influence faculty to adopt POGIL and how the degree of implementation impacts student learning and engagement. Our theory of action is that enhanced instructor support improves faculty adoption of and persistence with POGIL, which in turn improves student outcomes. We have also made adopting POGIL significantly easier by disseminating high quality instructional resources and enhancing professional development practices.Outcomes: Our contributions include new knowledge regarding barriers to faculty adoption, effective support for faculty adoption, and student outcomes including sense of belonging, teamwork, and learning outcomes. We have published two book chapters, two journal articles, five conference papers, more than ten workshops and special sessions at national conferences, and a website providing public information. Highlights include: (1) Faculty motivations to adopt POGIL centered around improving student outcomes, including their learning and engagement. The faculty also expressed concerns about using POGIL, ranging from how POGIL impacts the curriculum to logistical and institutional barriers. (2) We examined students’ perceptions of their collaborative learning and process skills in courses that recently switched to POGIL. Students had positive views about their teamwork, developing skills to work with others, and thinking through a problem. (3) We adapted and validated a 30-item survey, originally developed for mathematics courses, to measure students’ sense of belonging in computer science courses. Students taught with POGIL reported a higher level of enjoyment but also felt more tense and nervous. (4) In a comparative study involving six faculty and 282 students at the same institution, students taught with POGIL scored higher on assessments, and a higher proportion of them met the grade requirement to progress to the next course. After a five-week winter break, POGIL students had higher and more consistent scores on an unannounced quiz based on the previous course’s final exam.Broader Impacts: We created a five-stage professional development program that includes summer workshops, peer mentoring, individual reflection, and community engagement. The results of this work will inform future efforts to design professional development of STEM faculty. We have trained over 60 instructors at 45 institutions and have impacted over 5000 students. We have refined and disseminated three sets of guided inquiry activities for introductory courses in Java and Python. Our project improved teaching and learning at a broad range of undergraduate institutions including liberal arts colleges, research universities, community colleges, and minority serving institutions.


Helen H. Hu, Westminster College, Salt Lake City, UT; Clif Kussmaul, Green Mango Associates, Bethlehem, PA; Chris Mayfield, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA; Aman Yadav, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI