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Fri, Nov 3, 3:00 - 3:25, Bordeaux     Paper (refereed)
Recommended Citation: Stillman, R M and A R Peslak.  Modern Data Structures: Experiences with a Flexible Approach to a Data Structures Course.  In The Proceedings of the Information Systems Education Conference 2006, v 23 (Dallas): §2524. ISSN: 1542-7382. (A later version appears in Information Systems Education Journal 5(3). ISSN: 1545-679X.)
Recipient of Meritorious PhD Student Paper Award

Modern Data Structures: Experiences with a Flexible Approach to a Data Structures Course

Refereed10 pages
Richard M. Stillman    [a1] [a2]
School of Computer and Information Sciences
Nova Southeastern University    [u1] [u2]
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA    [c1] [c2]

Alan R. Peslak    [a1] [a2]
Information Sciences and Technology
The Pennsylvania State University    [u1] [u2]
Dunmore, Pennsylvania, USA    [c1] [c2]

Data structures retain a major place in the 2002 IS (Information Systems) Model Curriculum, but debate about teaching abstract data structures to computer and information systems students continues. The discussion generally centers on the relative merits of teaching how to program data structures versus how to use them. We propose a compromise approach in which students are introduced to both aspects. The capstone of the course is a final project where students are given the latitude to focus on developing and/or applying abstract data structures. Grades are based upon creativity and complexity. This approach allows each student to shape the educational experience to his or her own talents and professional needs. Experience with a group of 38 students of diverse backgrounds is presented. The validity and value of this final project are supported by the following trends that emerged from analyzing this experience. Studentsí grades on the final project correlated with their grades on other traditional assignments. Interestingly, those students in the upper one-third of the class tended to select the more difficult data structures to implement in their final project. Also, the 19 students with professional experience beyond entry-level employment were more likely to submit creative, rather than routine, final projects. The approach presented is seen as a success, ensuring that all students comprehend the basics of data structures, yet encouraging the more devoted students to excel.

Keywords: data structures, higher education, capstone, final project, information systems, active learning environment

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