This research is a cross university study of evaluating whether there are differences between demographic factors (gender, age, class standing) and student engagement via unplugged activities introducing parallel and distributed computing (PDC) topics in CS1, CS2, and CS3 level courses in an undergraduate computer science (CS) curriculum. The collaboration stemmed from attending a NSF Center for Parallel and Distributed Computing Curriculum Development and Educational Resources (CDER) PDC Curriculum Early Adopter Grant and Summer Training Program. Initiatives by the National Science Foundation in conjunction with the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers' Technical Committee of Parallel Processing (NSF/IEEE-TCPP) encourage and promote the introduction of PDC concepts in the early CS undergraduate courses.
The researchers used the [Wiggins, 2017: Assessing Student Perspective of Engagement in Class (ASPECT)] survey to collect data from ~105 undergraduate CS students after each unplugged activity. Demographic data (gender, age, class standing) was added to the survey to determine if there are differences in these and student engagement. For the study, the researchers designed two unplugged activities to demonstrate the fundamental concepts of PDC. The first activity help students learn the key benefits of parallel computing, and the limitations imposed by Amdahl's and Gustafson's law. The second activity exhibits the concepts of scheduling and load balancing.
Our findings indicate there are no significant differences between gender, age, class standing and student engagement. The researchers plan to continue their research on unplugged activities and student engagement. Additional activities will be developed to introduce other PDC topics.