Computing Edu Research & Adult Learning

What is this group about?

The USF CEReAL research group brings together members from diversified disciplines who share an interest in identifying & understanding the learning barriers encountered by students of the computing disciplines. Our objective is to contribute to the body of knowledge on how novice acquire the various computing skills, while also sharing & evaluating innovative pedagogies, course material, or software tools meant to help students overcome our discipline learning barriers.

What is Computing Education Research?

You might be wondering what is this Computing Education Research - CER - our group is focussed on.

  • Is CER the same as teaching?
  • Are the faculty involved in it Education Faculty or are they from one of the computing disciplines?
  • Is it a recognized research field nation-wide? e.g. National Sciene Foundation, IEEE or ACM professional organizations

We have a page to help you figure this out for yourself, refer to the What is CER? tab


Do not hesitate to drop us a line if you have any inquiries about any of the material in this site. If you are a student looking for a Senior Project, we regularly offer projects related to our ongoing or in-preparation grants; get in touch with us.

You will note that, in addition to educational material & software, our group also makes research publications available on this site. These are the result to our work in the field of Computing Education research, an interdisciplinary inquiry into the application of educational theories & frameworks to the specificities of the various computing disciplines; e.g. Information Technology, Computer Science, Software Engineering...

What is Computing Education Research?

Computing Education Research, or CER for short, is a relatively new research endeavor. Due to its tight bonds with teaching, many faculty and student do not grasp at first how it is different. Others do not see why this research is related to computing as opposed to the work performed by Faculty from the college of Education. Let's take a look together and try to identify the differences;

Teaching Practice
Let us start by what most of our student visitors will be familiar with; teaching practice. Under this terms we regroup all activities undertaken by an instructor when teaching an offering of a specific course. Often, the most dedicated instructors, will design innovative learning activities to address a need they have more or less formally identified. For instance, an instructor might poll their student about their understanding of a specific module and devise an exercise to help them overcome some misconception he or she identified in their previous assignment. Similarly, instructors may develop software to help their students with practice activities or author original educational material such as slides, textbooks, assignments. They will also often consult the Computing Education Research litterature or practitioner conferences to apply best practices in their classrooms; e.g. using Pair Programming. They might even go one step further & share their material or informal evaluations of how their students received it. The focus here is on the practice of teaching without necessary aiming at contributing to the body of knowledge on how computing students learn, what are their learning barriers, studying how general educational theories apply to our discipline, or formally evaluating specific interventions.
Education Research
At the other hand of the spectrum, some Faculty devote their efforts to studying educational processes as a research endeavor. These employ formal research designs, publish results in peer reviewed conferences and journals with the explicit goals of making significant contributions to our understanding of the teaching and learning processes. This category may or may not overlap the previous one. A faculty might conduct research on children litteracy alongside a colleague who will be conducting the related experiments in his or her classroom while their colleague shoulders the research aspect of their work. Keep also in mind, that we are talking here about general educational research. The focus of these faculty might be on K12 education or adult learning but it is generally not focussed on a specific academic discipline.
Discipline-based Education Research
Computing Education Research belongs to this last category. Discipline-based educational research has been pioneered in disciplines such as Math and Physics for decades. It has been embraced by Faculty from the various computing disciplines for a little less longer but with great enthusiasm. The objective here is to conduct formal educational research while leveraging expertise in the domain being taught. Often, CER faculty will find themselves partnering with education researchers as they validate how educational theories or frameworks fit or may be adapted to address the specific learning barriers encountered by their students. Again, a CER Faculty may or may not be directly teaching the courses related to their research focus; e.g. a faculty interested in conducting research on the pedagogy of programming might partner with a colleague who will help him experiment with various interventions and measure their impact on student learning. The key here is to conduct educational research with expertise on the nature of the discipline being taught.

Where may I learn more about CER?

The following papers were graciously shared by members of the CS-Ed mailing list and might help you get a more accurate picture about the state of Computing Education Research;

  • Sally Fincher, 2004 Computer Science Education Research. Taylor & Francis Publisher. ISBN-10: 9026519699. ISBN-13: 978-9026519697
  • Josh Tenenberg, 2010. Why Discipline Matters in Computing Education Scholarship ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE). Volume 9, Issue 4, doi:10.1145/1656255.1656256 [ACM Digital Library]
  • Josh Tenenberg, 2011. Editorial: Entry Points for Computing Education Research. ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE). Volume 11, Issue 1, doi:1921607.1921608. [ACM Digital Library]
  • Tony Clear, 2007. Valuing Computer Science Education Research? In A. Berglund & M. Wiggberg (Eds.), Proceedings of the 6th Baltic Sea Conference on Computing Education Research, Koli Calling (pp. 8-18): Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. [ACM Digital Library]
  • Tony Clear, 2013. Doctoral Work in Computing Education Research: Beyond Experimental Designs. ACM Inroads, 4(2), 28-30. doi:10.1145/2465085.2465092 [ACM Digital Library]
  • Nick Falkner, 2013. Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering (LaTiCE), 39-46. [IEEE Xplore]
  • Laura Malmi, 2013. A Pathway into Computing Education Research. ACM Inroads Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 3, 42-43 [ACM Digital Library]

Who supports CER as research?

It is essential for a nascent research discipline to achieve recognition by highly competitive funding agencies & top professional organization for computing professionals. CERT has achieved both.

The National Science Foundation has several programs, from different directorates, which are dedicated to funding Computing Education Research;

The ACM - Association for Computing Machinery - is the leading professional organization for the computing disciplines which supports Computing Education Research via;

  • SIGITE - Special Interest Group in Information Technology Education
  • SIGCSE - Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education

The above should provide you with links to the predominant journals and conferences in our field.

These are some of the past or ongoing projects the CEReAL group has been working on. Most of them have been funded by the National Science Foundation - NSF - under its Directorate for Education & Human Resources - EHR - and more spefically its CCLI or ATE programs from the Division of Undergraduate Education - DUE.

SUSHI - Self Directed Learning & Learning Habits

  • http://cereal.forest.usf.edu/sushi/
  • PI - Alessio Gaspar
  • Funding - not yet funded
  • SUSHI stands for Studying Undergraduates Study Habits & Initiatives. It is currently in prototyping step.

CLUE - C Programming Pedagogy

  • http://cereal.forest.usf.edu/clue/
  • PI - Alessio Gaspar
  • CLUE stands for C Learning Undergraduate Environment.
  • Funding - NSF DUE CCLI program under award #0836863 from 2008 to 2014.
  • This project focused on development both software & teaching / self-learning resources to address the need for such efforts to support the learning of the C programming language

Lincs - Linux System Administration Pedagogy

  • http://cereal.forest.usf.edu/linux/
  • PI - Cliff Bennett. USF subaward PI - Alessio Gaspar.
  • Funding - NSF ATE Advanced Technicians Training Program under award #0802551 from 2008 to 2012.
  • This project, in partnership with Polk State College Network Engineering Department, investigated the pedagogy of Linux system administration & its relation to the Revised Bloom Taxonomy. This effort helped assess the cognitive skills required by Linux sysadmin students while developing sound pedagogies to help them develop more than the minimal skills.
  • We also investigated the divergences between academic, industry & student perspectives on Linux system administration skills.
  • Material to support online Linux offerings at both Polk State College & University of South Florida was developed & is available on this site

SOFTICE - Virtualization for OS / Networking Pedagogy

  • http://cereal.forest.usf.edu/softice
  • PI - Alessio Gaspar.
  • Funding - NSF DUE CCLI A&I program under award #03598 from 2004 to 2008.
  • SOFTICE stands for Scalable, Open, Inexpensive, Fully Transparent, Clustering for Education.
  • This project resulted in the integration of, then emerging, clustering / automated provisioning / load balancing Linux clustering technologies in order to deliver a scalable, easy to maintain, easy to use, cluster infrastructure allowing students to run hands-on laboratories in operating systems or networking even when taking online offerings.


Alessio Gaspar
  • Director, Associate Professor, USF Information Technology Department.
  • Computing Education Research Interests; programming pedagogy, active learning, hands-on learning activities, online learning, self-directed learning, constructivism, cognitive apprenticeship.
  • Technology-related interests; Linux, open source web development, programming, Scrum project management, web development, system administration...
  • For more information refer to my web page
Sarah Langevin
  • Graduate student, Norwhich University.
  • Computing Education Research Interests; Programming Pedagogy, Psychological aspects, self-directed learning, quantitative research, online learning.
Naomi Boyer
  • Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Polk State College
  • Education research specialist.
  • Interests in quantitative / qualitative research, self-directed learning, online learning, instructional technologies
Dave Armitage
  • Associate Professor, USF Information Technology
  • Computing Education Research Interests; quantitative research, networking pedagogy, online learning.


Cliff Bennett
Joe Stanaback
  • System Administrator.
  • SOFTICE, LINCS Projects.
  • Technology-related Interests; System Administration, Linux, Web development, labs design
Ralph Tindell
  • Instructor, USF Computer Science Department
  • CLUE project
  • Python Developer

Other CER Labs

Make sure to visit Dr. Amruth Kumar PI Forum NSF-sponsored project for more information about other research initiatives focussed on programming pedagogy.

Why student projects?

We always look for opportunities to engage our undergraduate and graduate students in NSF-sponsored projects. These are great opportunities for them to

  • Get involved with tools and technologies going beyond what they are exposed to in our curriculum. These projects are great to gain familiary with state-of-the art technologies, especially in projects aimed at refactoring an existing code base in order to leverage or evaluate the benefits of a new framework.
  • Be part of a team. All projects are supervised by the faculty member who implemented & maintain the tool the student will further develop. This guarantee that our students are in good hands to be introduced to the existing code base & tutored through the new technologies they are unfamiliar with.
  • Contribute to products which are actually used by our team and other institutions. This involves a much more realistic development experience than the one found in projects where the student's deliverable is not meant to be used by anyone.
  • Walk the open source way. All our projects are open source. Students' contributions are made to our repositories and are therefore easy for the supervising faculty to review. This allows for very fast and frequent feedback to further guide the student. In addition, students end up with an archive of their work, alongside the end result, which they may show to future employers to illustrate their abilities.

If you are a student looking for an IT senior Project, an IT Practicum, or other type of project do not hesitate to get in touch with us

Students Previously Involved in CEReAL Projects

The following students have already partnered with our faculty on ongoing projects

Nghiem Tran
CLUE Project - 2014 IT Senior Project; NED web app improvement
Stephen Kozakoff
CLUE project - 2014 IT Senior Project; NED Netbeans plugin
Adam Feller
CLUE Project - 2013 IT Senior Project; NED Eclipse Plugin
Joshua Maun
SUSHI Project - 2012 IT Senior Project; Extending prototype
Matt McDermott
CLUE Project - 2011 IT Senior Project; CLUE self-study VM Prototype
Michael Nachtigal
CLUE Project - OPS - Syntax Analyzer development.
Benjamin Geiger
SOFTICE Project - OPS - kernel labs development
Alex Kranh
SOFTICE Project - 2007 IT Senior Project; VMware educational virtual appliance
Janet Offray
SOFTICE Project - 2006 IT Senior Project; Applying SOFTICE to Linux sysadmin Labs
Clark Godwin
SOFTICE Project - 2005 IT Senior Project; Linux Kernel Loadable Modules
Eric Murray
SOFTICE Project - 2005 IT Senior Project; Debian Packaging for the Warewulf Project
Nestor Rentas
SOFTICE Project - 2005 IT Senior Project; Linux Stealth Intrusion Detection
Andrew Wong
SOFTICE Project - 2005 IT Senior Project; SSI clustering on classroom PCs
Barry Cohen
SOFTICE Project - 2005 IT Senior Project; Debian Linux installation of a private LAN