Innovative Redesign to Enhance Student Learning and Practice in Data Structures Course

Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

American Society of Engineering Education 2015 Illinois-Indiana Section Conference

Conference Location

Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, IN


Unlike Computer Science students, Computer Engineering majors typically have weaker background and limited training in programming. However, lots of Computer Engineering graduates enter the professional fields as software engineers or test engineers. Data Structures course teaches the fundamental techniques of organizing information efficiently. Therefore, enhancing the learning and practice in the Data Structure course is essential for Computer Engineering majors. Throughout the past two years, innovative strategies have been adopted to improve the Data Structures course at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne in the following two areas: i) using web-based visualization tools for better illustration of different data structures and associated algorithms, and ii) employing the client-server prototype in programming projects. The first helps the students better understand the theory of data structures; whereas the second helps them practice the skills of managing data structures efficiently in real applications. Both these practices will prepare them better to enter the targeted workforce. This paper goes through the detailed design of the web-based visualization and client-server prototype based programming in the Data Structures course. Specifically, a set of online visualization tools have been collected to demonstrate the operations for various data structures. Online questions for each demo have also been designed and implemented. Students must visit the given links, perform certain tasks for each data structure or algorithm, and answer a set of online questions. Those visualization tools also help in teaching the material and delivering ideas during lecture time. In addition, new programming assignments are added or updated. With the prototype model and the client-server software development environment embedded in the design of such programming assignments, students are required to follow the incremental programming procedure and the object-oriented programming model. Assessment results show that the above tools were effective and helped students understand and apply the concepts of the data structures and associated algorithms in practical applications. Some suggestions for further improvement are also included. The course redesign can serve as a first step towards offering this course in a hybrid mode. For example, the class can be implemented in flipped mode where the web-based visualization tools can help student learn course content at home; thus they have more time in class discussing and solving problems. The course also can be offered through distance learning for working adults who only come to campus for exams and problem-solving sessions.



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