Skip Navigation

Follow us on:

Ask A REL Response

March 2019


What research has been conducted on designing effective courses for teaching computer science?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research on designing effective courses for teaching computer science. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed designing effective courses for teaching computer science. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Antonis, K., Daradoumis, T., Papadakis, S., & Simos, C. (2011). Evaluation of the effectiveness of a web-based learning design for adult computer science courses. IEEE Transactions on Education, 54(3), 374-380.
    From the abstract: "This paper reports on work undertaken within a pilot study concerned with the design, development, and evaluation of online computer science training courses. Drawing on recent developments in e-learning technology, these courses were structured around the principles of a learner-oriented approach for use with adult learners. The paper describes a methodological framework for the evaluation of three main educational issues involved in the learning process of Web-based computer science training courses, and analyzes the results of this study with the aim of providing an improved learning design, and environment, for these courses. The findings highlight a number of potential barriers to learning and indicate the failed indicators that need to be improved in order to enhance effective performance. The authors give their views both on ways to improve the proposed learning environment and on the need for an optimal balance between asynchronous and synchronous activities, enhanced collaboration, and interactions among adult learners and e-tutors."
  2. Ernst, J. V., & Clark, A. C. (2012). Fundamental computer science conceptual understandings for high school students using original computer game design. Journal of STEM Education: Innovations and Research, 13(5), 40-45.
    From the abstract: "In 2009, the North Carolina Virtual Public Schools worked with researchers at the William and Ida Friday Institute to produce and evaluate the use of game creation by secondary students as a means for learning content related to career awareness in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines, with particular emphasis in computer science areas. The study required the development of various forms of multimedia that were inclusive of content and activities delivered in a distance environment via the Internet. The team worked with a game art and design graduate class to produce materials and assessment instruments to be included in the project. The multimedia-based materials were piloted and field tested in online Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses titled Computer Applications I. The evaluation and assessment of this project focused on student learning gains in content-specific computer science areas and overall appreciation of the technology studies used during the project. Teacher and student interviews, along with teacher journals, helped track the progress of both the students and edited materials. Conclusions from this study include support of gaming as a pedagogical process and the need for technological literacy. Based on teacher and student feedback, the study concluded that informational technology software serves as an influential variable in the success of this type of instructional unit. More research is needed on the use of gaming as a pedagogical tool in STEM disciplines as professionals in education prepare 21st century learners. (Contains 4 tables.)"
  3. Qian, Y., Hambrusch, S., Yadav, A., & Gretter, S. (2018). Who needs what: Recommendations for designing effective online professional development for computer science teachers. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 50(2), 164-181.
    From the abstract: "The new Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science (CS) Principles course increases the need for quality CS teachers and thus the need for professional development (PD). This article presents the results of a 2-year study investigating how teachers teaching the AP CS Principles course for the first time used online PD material. Our results showed that the teaching and computing background of teachers had a significant impact on the teachers' need for and use of online PD material. More specifically, novice CS teachers needed and used PD for developing their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Non-CS teachers needed and used PD materials emphasizing content knowledge. Experienced CS teachers believed they had little need for PD even though they were teaching a new course. Our study makes three recommendations for designing effective online PD for CS teachers: match PD to teachers' background, align PD with the course curriculum, and use effective motivational design to enhance teacher engagement."
  4. Rice, M., & Shannon, L. J. (2016). Developing project based learning, integrated courses from two different colleges at an institution of higher education: an overview of the processes, challenges, and lessons learned. Information Systems Education Journal, 14(3), 55-62.
    From the abstract: "All too often, courses in higher education tend to teach isolated bits of facts with little effort to assist in learner assimilation of those facts so as to grow knowledge of the world into a more dynamic understanding. To address the need for a capstone research project for students in their master's program and in an effort to create online courses which offer a more meaningful learning environment with integrated curriculum, two professors chose to accomplish this by combining their courses over a two-semester period of time. An additional challenge existed since these two courses were in two separate departments (Computer Science and Curriculum & Instruction), and in two different colleges (College of Sciences and College of Education) on a university campus. This article explains why they chose project based learning as the foundation for merging these courses. Further, it describes the process, the assignments, the challenges, and the lessons learned."
  5. Veletsianos, G., Beth, B., Lin, C., & Russell, G. (2016). Design principles for "Thriving in Our Digital World": A high school computer science course. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 54(4), 443-461.
    From the abstract: "Thriving in Our Digital World" is a technology-enhanced dual enrollment course introducing high school students to computer science through project- and problem-based learning. This article describes the evolution of the course and five lessons learned during the design, development, implementation, and iteration of the course from its first through third year of implementation. The design principles that we describe have guided our design endeavors and may be helpful to instructional designers, learning technologists, and others who are engaged in the design and development of in situ interventions to improve the teaching and learning of computer science."
  6. Webb, M., Davis, N., Bell, T., Katz, Y, J., Reynolds, N., Chambers, D. P., & Syslo, M. M. (2017). Computer science in K-12 school curricula of the 2lst century: Why, what and when? Education and Information Technologies, 22(2), 445-468.
    From the abstract: "In this paper we have examined the position and roles of Computer Science in curricula in the light of recent calls for curriculum change and we have proposed principles and issues to consider in curriculum design as well as identifying priority areas for further research. The paper is based on discussions within and beyond the International Federation of Information Processing (IFIP) Education Community since 2012 as well as an analysis of curriculum developments in five different countries. Emerging themes have been discussed with reference to important perspectives from curriculum theory including 'powerful knowledge' as a key element of entitlement and management of the growth of expertise. Based on this analysis we have identified areas of consensus as well as constraints, risks and issues that are still subject to controversy. There is an emerging consensus of the importance of Computer Science and the nature of its 'powerful knowledge.' Furthermore current understanding of the opportunities and benefits for starting to learn Computer Science early in primary schools has identified this early start as an entitlement and equity issue. There is a strong consensus that teacher professional development in Computer Science Education is critical for supporting curriculum change and is currently a major challenge in many countries. Other key issues include understanding how the growth of expertise affects potential structure and sequencing in the curriculum and the balance of content. Further considerations include how new technological opportunities interact with pedagogical approaches and can provide new potential for the growth of expertise."

Additional Organizations to Consult

Computer Science Teachers Association -

From the website: "It began with a vision, a passion for computer science education, and the need to serve teachers on a global level. The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) is a membership organization that supports and promotes the teaching of computer science. CSTA provides opportunities for K-12 teachers and their students to better understand computer science and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn. Founded by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) in 2004, CSTA has grown into a dynamic and vibrant organization of professionals interested in supporting computer science education in K-12. Today, our membership consists of more than 25,000 members from more than 145 countries. These members include elementary, middle, and high school teachers; college and university faculty; supportive members of industry and government, school administrators, other non-profits, and parents."


Keywords and Search Strings
The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Design Computer Science courses
  • Developing courses for computer science
  • Computer science class, high school, course design
  • Computer science curriculum design
  • Instructional materials, "computer science" courses, high school
  • Design Computer Science courses

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.