Using Programmed Instruction to Help Students Engage with eTextbook Content
Using Programmed Instruction to
Engage with eTextbook Content
Mostafa Mohammed, Susan Rodger, and Clifford A. Shaffer
○ Traditional Formal Languages course, Programmed Instruction, OpenDSA, and JFLAP
● JFLAP, and OpenFLAP
● Designing new Formal Languages eTextBook
○ Automated Exercises
Traditional Formal Languages
● Formal languages course
○ mathematical in nature
● Traditional textbooks heavy on prose
● Homework assignments - paper exercises.
● Students read significant amount of text and
● Practice problems by hand
● Programmed Instruction is an instructional methodology centered on
Skinner’s principle of stimulus control and reinforcement to shape
● Instruction follows a linearly logical sequence
○ Decomposes content into well-defined small curriculum units.
○ Presentis a small sentence or paragraph followed by asking a simple question about that
● PI supports learning through a systematic reinforcing approach
○ Students can advance incrementally and receive immediate feedback
○ Students are rewarded in a self-paced manner.
● The OpenDSA project at Virginia Tech is concerned with building
complete eTextbooks for different topics in computer science
● These eTextbooks are enhanced with various embedded artifacts
○ Exercises with automated assessment.
● OpenDSA allows instructors to create instances of complete interactive
eTextbooks that integrate interactive artifacts with the textual content.
● OpenDSA contains a supply of slideshows produced using the JSAV
● Students need to read a significant amount of text and do practice
problems by hand to achieve understanding.
● Electronic textbooks have many useful methods to display the
content to students.
● However, unless carefully designed, students abuse these methods to
earn grades without studying the content carefully
JFLAP(Java Formal Languages and
● The state-of-the-art simulator for Formal Languages
● Simulates the models that are used in Formal
○ Apply different algorithms on these models
○ Test these models with different input strings.
● Increases student engagement and interaction.
● Helps students understand different Formal
● There are some cons of using JFLAP
○ it is built using Java
○ There is no support to give students
questions and auto assess them.
● One of our goals is to re-implement
JFLAP functionality using web
We call it OpenFLAP.
● To build the required Programmed Instruction materials, we need
○ a system to deliver and display the information and the question.
○ a mechanism to control when students can move forward
● OpenDSA has a suitable starting point called Slideshows. Slideshows have
a significant disadvantage
○ Students can freely skip any number of slides.
● The frame is similar to the slide.
○ Satisfaction criterion.
○ Students can not got to the next slide unless they satisfy the satisfaction criterion.
Designing a new Formal Languages
The project consists of the following phases.
1. Baseline phase: in Spring 2018 we taught a version of the Formal
Languages course with traditional materials.
a. heavy on prose and light on visualizations.
b. We used JFLAP for some homework and some content presentation.
2. Visualizations phase, Spring 2019, we implemented most of the critical
a. The same prose with visualizations for all algorithms
Designing a new Formal Languages
3. Visualizations with automated exercise. Fall 2019
4. Programmed Instruction eTextbook. In Spring 2020, we will use the
developed PI frames infrastructure to build our new eTextbook system
● We provide auto-assessed exercise.
● No grading effort required.
● Students can practice more and get
● By using OpenFLAP
○ Ask students to build a model.
○ Check accuracy with unit test cases.
● Static presentation can be easily abused or skipped by students.
● In this paper we proposed to use Programmed Instruction (PI) pedagogy.
○ PI is based on frames, small units of text along with a question or exercise
○ Students must answer the question before continuing to the next frame.
● We have implemented a frame-based system, and will collect the data to
analyze the effectiveness of this approach.