Make it matter for students by connecting computer science to other fields, such as medicine, the humanities, and media. By showing how computer science concepts and skills are used in other fields, you can engage students who may not have considered computer science as a major or career.

Some suggestions

Use interdisciplinary problems. Assign homeworks, labs, and projects that have students apply what they are learning to interesting problems in other fields. The EngageCSEdu collection has lots of examples!

Draw on the expertise of colleagues from other fields. Worried that you can’t make the interdisciplinary connections yourself? Ask around for colleagues who do computational work in their fields. Then have them come talk to your students or collaborate with them on some assignments.

Introduce students to cross-disciplinary computing fields. Highlight the contributions made by other disciplines to new interdisciplinary fields in computing. These are often referred to as 'x-informatics' (e.g., bioinformatics) and 'computational y' (e.g., computational linguistics).

Examples from the collection

Impressionism and Implicit Functions (Looping 2D Space)

This is the sixth lab in a course on computational art (CS1) using Processing ( In this lab, students write a program that creates an image using an implicit representation of geometry that is drawn using shapes to emulate paint strokes.

In this lab, students will:

  1. Practice using a loop control structure to create an image made of strokes based on implicit lines.
  2. Practice using implicit lines and implicit circles, and the distances from these equations, to create a scene or object.
  3. Create new stroke styles using patterns of points, lines, and ellipses that model the textures seen in many impressionist paintings.
  4. Practice translating mathematical functions into code. 
Engagement Excellence

Computational Creativity Exercise (CCE): Storytelling

In this assignment students work as a team to develop chapters of a story where the first and last sentence of the chapter is prescribed. Students first work independently developing their own chapter and then work collaboratively to identify and resolve logical inconsistencies in the chapters in order to produce a final coherent story.  This exercise will allow students to practice problem decomposition, abstraction, and evaluation, and also debugging and testing.

This exercise was developed as part of the NSF-funded Computational Creativity project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Engagement Excellence


OER for Ethics and Computing Open Access Collection

Coverage of ethics and computing is proliferating at universities, at both undergraduate and graduate levels. This includes standalone courses, and incorporation of ethics into technical computer science and related courses. Most of these courses, particularly the standalone ones, make extensive use of recent media articles, papers, videos, and other resources about issues related to ethics and computing. Thousands of such media articles alone are published annually. There is enormous duplication of effort by people who are teaching these courses, as discovering these resources is not always an easy process.

Interaction Metrics Projects for Human-Computer Interaction

This Interaction Metrics OER consists of two group projects focused on teaching students how to create validated metrics for measuring human-computer interactions. If we want to measure how good a team is at teamwork, we might count communication utterances by members and see if they’re equally distributed. But is that measure predictive of team success? Probably not. If we want to measure how much a person likes an app, we might count number of uses per day or number of taps per usage session. While these metrics are countable, there’re not accurate predictors of fondness for an app. These two projects ask students to create objective, useful metrics for real-world human-technology interactions and to validate them with predictive models and collected data. I tell students these projects are about “developing metrics for things that are hard to measure” and ask them to consider whether the proliferation of inexpensive sensors, AI, and IoT might make fuzzy constructs like “team trust” or being a “good leader” more measurable.

Usability Testing Plan Template: A flexible tool for planning and teaching usability evaluation

Usability testing is a key research method in human-computer
interaction (HCI). When students are designing for others, usability
testing is an opportunity to learn how the design is currently
working and how it can be improved. This usability testing plan
template gives individual students or teams a structure to help plan,
conduct, and analyze data from a study. The template walks
students through the process of planning a study through a series of
questions and planning materials. The template is especially helpful
for students new to usability testing and can be adapted and
adjusted as needed.

ACM Digital Library Entry

Using Citizen Science as a Theme for a User-Centered Design Course

Teaching students how to design and evaluate technology user experiences should be centered around understanding real-world user needs. In this project, students focus on a particular domain, Citizen Science, to motivate their learning of user research, prototyping, and usability testing. Citizen Science projects study phenomena in nature and the environment, such as monitoring the spread of invasive plant species or water quality. Citizen Science projects depend on volunteers to collect and submit data from local environments. Citizen Science is a compelling context for user-centered design because it involves multiple stakeholder groups, various front-end technologies (e.g., web and mobile), and information architecture. This project is scoped for a user-centered design and usability testing course for undergraduate computer science students. The course learning objectives are to (1) use research and design methods to develop an understanding of technology stakeholders and (2) apply that knowledge to create and refine design artifacts.

Using Affect-Aware Computing as a Theme for a User-Centered Design Course

This user-centered design project invites students to conduct hands-on human-computer interaction research and design by exploring affect-aware technology. These technologies seek to account for users’ emotions, moods, and other affective phenomena in the user experience. Examples include emojis used while texting, social robots that model emotional responses, and emotionally-aware chatbots. This project is for a user-centered design and usability testing course offered to undergraduate computer science students. The course learning objectives are to use research and design methods to (1) build an empirical understanding of technology stakeholders and (2) apply that knowledge to design and evaluate an interactive prototype. By immersing themselves in the complex domain of affect-aware computing, students learn to apply user-centered design to emerging technologies. Students create and refine common user-centered design artifacts, including personas, interaction designs, and prototypes. The reader of this paper will obtain recommendations for structuring the user-centered design projectand a high-level understanding of affect-aware computing.

Meme Magic: Project in Sprints

Meme Magic is a series of six assignments intended to provide progressive exposure to programming in Java using a popular and recent concept: Memes. Memes utilize an image conveying a concept or feeling with a caption provided by the Meme author. The series of assignments, designed as sprints in the context of a larger project, begin with the design and scaffolding of Java classes needed to write a program to produce text-based Memes and end with a fully-functional graphical user interface. For a detailed list of learning goals, please see the Learning Goals section. In the first sprint, students depict the overall project structure of a text-based meme application using Unified Markup Language (UML) and write method stubs in Java. In each of the next two sprints, students implement half of the specified functionality and integrate those components to a fully working application. Students are asked to add Comparators to sort memes to their application in sprint 4 and to unit test all of their code using JUnit in sprint 5. In the final sprint, students extend the functionality once more to a graphical user interface to experience event-driven programming.

Decision Trees for Text Classification in CS2

In CS2 courses centering programming with recursion and data structures, binary trees can be used to represent hierarchical relationships between data. Drawing on a machine learning context, this assignment presents an application of binary trees toward text classification that demonstrates how the design of programming abstractions shapes social outcomes. By the end of this assignment, students will not only be able to define methods that recursively construct, traverse, and modify binary trees, but also begin to engage with ethical questions around the design and use of sociotechnical text classification systems.

ACM Digital Library Entry

Analyzing Airbnb data

This CS1 assignment asks students to use lists, dictionaries, tuples,
and basic programming concepts in Python to analyze Airbnb data.
Students are then asked to make a connection to the real world by
finding articles about regulating Airbnb and reflecting on how data
analysis might be relevant to those conversations.  The difficulty of
the assignment can be varied by changing the assumptions that students
are allowed to make about the input files.

Olympics Lab

In this lab students compute the acceleration of a short track speed skater per lap. This is a lab for early in a semester of CS 1. It requires the use of 1) standard input/output, 2) variables and simple arithmetic expressions, 3) selection statements, and 4) loops.

Learning objectives:
* Compiling, linking, executing a program
* Developing an algorithm
* Testing a program
* Using the C++ syntax and programming constructs of standard I/O, variables and arithmetic expressions, selection statements, and loops

Fitness Tracking Lab

In this lab, students track their own fitness activities for a week. They submit this data which becomes some of the test data for the lab. Based on the students' activities, the program computes the number of equivalent miles each student has walked and the total number of miles walked by everyone together. Output is sorted from most miles walked to least miles walked. 

This is a lab for late in the semester of a CS 1 course. It requires students to use text files and an array of structures.

Learning objectives:

  • Compiling, linking, executing a program
  • Developing an algorithm
  • Testing a program
  • Using the C++ syntax and programming constructs of standard I/O, variables and arithmetic expressions, selection statements, structures, arrays

Prerequisite knowledge: Students must have already been exposed to standard I/O, variables, arithmetic statements, selection statements, loops, functions, arrays, structures, and text files.

The lab could be easily modified to use a class instead of a structure and an array of objects.

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