Volume 5

Volume 5, Number 3

January 3, 2007

12 pages1179 K bytes

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

Richard M. Stillman
Nova Southeastern University
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33314 USA

Alan R. Peslak
Penn State University
Dunmore, PA 18512 USA

Abstract: 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. Students’ 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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Recommended Citation: Stillman and Peslak (2007). Modern Data Structures: Experiences with a Flexible Approach to a Data Structures Course. Information Systems Education Journal, 5 (3). http://isedj.org/5/3/. ISSN: 1545-679X. (A preliminary version appears in The Proceedings of ISECON 2006: §2524. ISSN: 1542-7382.)