Free online course helps aspiring computer scientists succeed

Purdue University’s free online introductory computer science and programming course is receiving national attention as a rare educational opportunity for high school students.

Many high schools in Indiana do not offer courses in computer science and programming, and less than one percent of the Advanced Placement tests taken in the state last year were computer science exams, said Phil Sands, the K-12 outreach coordinator for Purdue’s Department of Computer Science.

The online course was first offered for free to Indiana high school students in 2014, and is now available to any high school student in the United States, he said.

“The course aligns with Indiana state standards for an AP Computer Science A course, and school corporations are welcome to implement our instructional material in their schools,” Sands said. “It would provide a new computer science teacher the opportunity to develop his or her computer science program with assistance from Purdue. We’re proud to be able to help any school provide that opportunity to its students.”

The course, "Introduction to Object-Oriented Programming," is an extension of the department’s Bridge Program that helps students who have an interest in computer science but little or no programming experience succeed in their first year at the University. The program introduces students to basic computer science and programming concepts at a comfortable pace.

The online course grew out of a successful summer class on campus that has been instrumental to the success and retention of students at Purdue, said Sunil Prabhakar, professor and head of the Department of Computer Science.

"As a land-grant institution, we feel it is our responsibility to step in and bridge the gap so that no student who desires a future in computer science is left behind due to a lack of resources or availability of classes," he said.

The self-paced course is not graded and does not count toward college credit requirements, but it covers material similar to the computer science Advanced Placement course and could help prepare a student to test out of a freshman programming class at Purdue or another institution.

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