What Exactly Are We Expecting Our Novice Programming Students to Achieve?

This project, kindly funded by a SIGCSE special projects award, aims to collect, categorize and analyze the learning outcome statements of CS1 courses across a large, diverse set of institutions, providing an answer to the question: What exactly are we expecting our novice programming students to achieve? This will allow the CS education community to decide if, as recent evidence has suggested, we have unrealistic expectations of our CS1 students (Luxton-Reilly, 2016). The outputs of this research will provide a starting point for the CS education community to adjust its expectations of novice programmers, resulting in improvements in failure rates, retention, diversity and equity in CS education. Upon completion of the project an online repository of CS1 learning outcomes will be available to, and updatable by, the CS education community.

Your help is valued! How can you contribute? I am looking to collect learning outcomes (sometimes called learning objectives) normally found in course syllabi, module descriptors, etc. See Learning Outcomes (below) for a little more detail. So, if you are in a position of sharing these with me, or will be by the summer, please give me your contact details at the link below and I will get back to you soon. If you have a syllabus, module descriptor, or list of learning outcomes ready to send, please do – an email attachment is fine – please just make sure you have filled out the form also, just for record keeping. If you are in a country where Google services are not available and you can’t access the form below, please email me.


An expected learning outcome (LO) is a formal statement of what students are expected to learn in a given course. LOs are often included in syllabi, and are required in some jurisdictions such as Europe, as they form the basis of all programs of education as per the Bologna process (Adam, 2008). LOs refer to specific knowledge, practical skills, areas of professional development, attitudes, higher-order thinking skills, etc. that faculty members expect students to develop, learn, or master during a course (Suskie, 2010). LOs are also referred to as “learning outcomes”, “student learning outcomes”, “learning outcome statements” or “learning objectives” (Texas Tech University, n.d.).

Adam, S. (2008). Learning outcomes current developments in Europe: update on the issues and applications of learning outcomes associated with the Bologna process. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Luxton-Reilly, A. (2016). Learning to program is easy. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE ’16) (pp. 284-289). Arequipa, Peru: ACM. Free link from Andrew’s site.

Suskie, L. (2010). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. John Wiley & Sons.

Texas Tech University. (n.d.). Writing and assessing course-level student learning outcomes. Texas Tech University.