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Can POGIL Increase Retention for First-Semester Computer Science Students?

Presented by:

Ruthie Halma, Truman State University

The first- to second-year retention rate for computer science majors is one of the lowest rates of all majors. Can using the POGIL approach help?

Can POGIL Increase Retention for First-Semester Computer Science Students?


Retention from first to second year for computer science majors is known to be one of the lowest of all majors. The POGIL approach to concept learning was used in a first-year computer science classroom and compared to teaching the same material using the traditional lecture method. Results are given comparing the two methods, as are potential additional uses of POGIL to engage new learners and potentially increase retention.


Classroom Community/Culture, Experiential Learning, Interactive Instruction


Apply the POGIL approach in a typical first-year computer science (CS1) classroom setting.
Connect the POGIL approach of learning to other potential uses in a CS1 classroom.
Consider the use of POGIL to increase first year retention in computer science.

Hear it from the author:

Can POGIL Increase Retention for First-Semester Computer Science Students?Ruthie Halma, Truman State University
00:00 / 01:26

Audio Transcript:

Freshman computer science has one of the highest dropout rates at a little over 10.5%. We wanted to investigate various approaches to see if we could slow our out-flow of majors.

In addition to considering several curricular changes, we explored using the NSF-sponsored Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL) approach to new concept formation in a CS 1 class of computer science new freshmen. POGIL is a student-centered learning technique involving small self-managed groups of students using lessons prepared ahead of time where students experience self-discovery, knowledge exploration, the development of critical thinking and active learning, responsibility for their own learning, written and oral communication skills development, and group cohesion with rapid friend development. They also perform self-assessment. The instructor serves as facilitator instead of being the sole knowledge source.

One week of class time was devoted to POGIL activities. The first class period was spent learning the various roles group members assume in a POGIL group. The second day was devoted to using POGIL to learn about propositional logic. The third class period was spent learning about binary trees in general and binary search trees in particular.

Students were observed to be instantly and continuously engaged in all three days of POGIL activities. They commented on how hard they worked and on how much they learned.


Become a POGIL practitioner. (n.d.). POGIL.

Giannakos, M., Pappas, I., Jaccheri, L., & Sampson, D. (2017). Understanding student retention in computer science education: The role of environment, gains, barriers and usefulness. Education and Information Technologies, 22(5), 2365–2382.

Home. (n.d.). CS POGIL.

Yadav, A., Kussmaul, C., Mayfield, C., & Hu, H. (2019). POGIL in computer science: Faculty motivation and challenges. In Proceedings of the 50th Annual ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education'19, February 27–March 2, 2019, Minneapolis, MN, USA.

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