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Abstract

Student assignments have long been an integral part of many university level computer science courses to reinforce material covered in class with practical exercises. For years, researchers have studied ways to improve such student assignments by making them more interesting, applicable, and valuable to the student with a goal of improving learning outcomes by increasing student appeal. One often studied way to improve the learning outcome is by allowing students a choice in assignments. To ensure fairness for all students in providing such a choice, care must be taken to ensure assignment “equality” by ensuring an equal learning experience for all students regardless of their choice of homework assignments. Our introductory computer science class is a survey class which covers multiple topics including programming concepts, word processing, presentation software, computer security, spreadsheet usage and databases design and implementation. Students perform several programming exercises throughout the course to demonstrate their knowledge and improve their skill in programming. For a number of years, we’ve offered students a choice on their final assignment. Worth 10% of the course grade, the assignment provides students with either an analytical programming project or a software applications based project. The purpose of this paper is to look at the motivations that drove students to make the choice they did and the impact of their choice on their assignment grade and overall performance on the course final. Our findings indicate that care must be taken when offering options to the student as the choice the student makes may unintentionally and adversely affect both their learning experience and course performance.

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