Leveraging Cognitive Load Theory, Scaffolding, and Distance Technologies to Enhance Computer Programming for Non-Majors


Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) was used as a foundation to redesign a computer programming class for mechanical engineers, in which content was delivered with hybrid/distance technology. The effort confirmed the utility of CLT in course design. And it demonstrates that hybrid/distance learning is not merely a tool of convenience, but one, which, when used purposefully, enhances the learning experience.

To ensure scaffolding of domain knowledge, the content was both the syntax of a structured language and the algorithms encountered by students of mechanical engineering: Gauss Reduction and Newton-Raphson. To maximize germane (motivational) learning load, course material scaffolding occurred vertically, connecting language syntax constructs to each other, and also application algorithm constructs to each other. Scaffolding also occurred horizontally, connecting language syntax to application algorithms. Finally temporal scaffolding occurred in which application algorithms were connected to examples of simulation science and engineering, including, for example, finite element, multi-body dynamics and computational fluid mechanics.

Comparative evaluations demonstrate improved student learning outcomes, streamlined and enhanced course delivery, improved instructor evaluations, was a great cost savings to the department, and facilitated a transition from low to high enrollment. The department need no longer hire lecturers or provide and upgrade workstations.

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Thomas J. Impelluso, Ph.D.
San Diego State University
San Diego, California 92182

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