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Legos teach programming in Computing Science

Legos aren’t usually the first thing most students would think about when they enroll in a introductory computing science course. Yet, the interlocking plastic building blocks are an integral part of the Introduction to Computer Science course being taught by Joel Hollingsworth this fall.

Hollingsworth purchased 17 Lego robot kits, the kind commonly found at the toy store. Instead of using the preprogrammed code the robots have when they’re packaged at the factory, Hollingsworth’s students learn the basics of writing code by programming the robots. By observing how the robot responds to various commands and stimuli, students learn what went right with their code, and what they need to improve.

“We’re teaching the same thing we always have, just in a different way,” says Hollingsworth. “Lots of kids come into the program because they like computers. This is a way to teach basic principles to them in a way that is fun and exciting, and they are able to see the real results of their work.”

It’s a rather unique and uncommon approach to teaching basic computing science, and just one piece of evidence that demonstrates the growth and development of Elon’s computing science department in recent years.

In 2000, the department had just one Ph.D on its faculty; now there are seven. The department has also grown from offering just a bachelor’s degree in computer science to offering a wide array of major options, including a BA in computer information systems and a BS in computer science. In addition, a minor is now offered in multi-media authoring through a collaborative effort between the computing science department and faculty colleagues in English and Digital Art.

Other exciting courses are planned in the future, including a cyber-culture course during Winter Term and a parallel processing course using a Beowulf cluster during the spring semester.

Department chair Dave Powell, a 20-year veteran of commercial software development and management for companies such as General Electric, Cisco Systems and Engineous Software, says “Elon provides a continually updated, hands-on, state-of-the- art hardware and software environment. That gives our students the knowledge and expertise to productively step into any corporation’s computing environment.”

David Hibbard,
9/30/2003 2:34 PM