SIGCSE’2018 Workshop

Computational Creativity Exercises for Improving Student Learning and Performance

February 24, Saturday, 3:00 – 6:00 PM


Leen-Kiat Soh (Contact Person)

Department of Computer Science & Engineering

University of Nebraska

122E Avery Hall

Lincoln, NE 68588-0115 USA

Phone:  +402-472-6738




Duane Shell

Department of Educational Psychology

University of Nebraska



Liz Ingraham

School of Art, Art History & Design

University of Nebraska





(Group members discussing the Marble Maze exercise. Goal: keep the marble moving
through the maze as long as possible.)



In this workshop, we will introduce you to a suite of Computational Creativity Exercises (CCEs) that have been shown to significantly improve student learning and achievement in introductory and advanced CS courses. CCEs address core aspects of computational thinking while exposing students to creative thinking skills, and can be adapted for use in your own courses. Activities such as writing a story in separate chapters and then merging the chapters to form a coherent whole, creating quilt-like patterns with written descriptions, or designing testing strategies for an alien health machine require students to apply computational thinking to unorthodox contexts and situations promoting creative application of CS knowledge and skills. CCEs are group-based, promote active learning, and are designed to foster collaborative problem solving necessary in today’s diverse workplace. Engage in a hands-on demo of a CCE and learn how to adapt CCEs for use in your classes, including technical support from the IC2Think Project team. Learn about the rigorous research studies behind the development, design and administration of these CCEs, including the instruments we used to evaluate the CCEs. Workshop session will include “how-to” presentations, panel-based Q&A, breakout group discussions, and hands-on activities. Let’s compute, create, and collaborate!



One night of lodging and workshop registration fees will be covered by an NSF grant for the first 30 participants who submit their own one-page statement of purpose to the organizers two weeks prior to the workshop and participate fully in the workshop.



For more information on the Computational Creativity Exercises and research, please see:


(Each group member designs and builds a separate section of the Marble Maze.)



Increasingly more SIGCSE attendees are teaching CS courses to non-majors with diverse backgrounds and motivations, and instructors are facing challenges that appear when teaching to both majors and non-majors at the same time.  The Computational Creativity Exercises and our approach to integrate computational thinking and creative thinking into classrooms have been shown to improve student learning and performance in class, helping students grasp the conceptual underpinnings and “big picture” of the technical contents they are required to master or learn.  Furthermore, the group-based, non-programming active learning activities also help encourage exchange of different ideas, put group members in more equal footings, and engage students in “thinking” about the process of coming up with a solution, which are aligned well with the “CS for All” theme of broadening participation in CS. Participants will also be given resources including the exercise suite, the research survey questionnaires and knowledge tests used, and lessons learned and logistical issues regarding the deployment of these exercises, and referred to original research papers.


Late secondary and post-secondary CS educators as well as post-secondary educators who are incorporating computational thinking into their courses, who wish to learn about integrating computational thinking and creative thinking, using the computational creativity exercises to improve student learning and performance, and conducting educational research studies on such practice.


(Connecting the separate sections of the Marble Maze requires debugging the maze.)



Leen-Kiat Soh is a Professor with the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) whose research in Computer Science Education focuses on CS1/2, integrating creative thinking, computer-assisted instruction, intelligent education tools, instructional technology, and curriculum.  His SIGCSE’2017 paper (co-authored with Shell and Ingraham) was named one of the Exemplary Papers. 

Duane Shell is a Research Professor with the Department of Educational Psychology at UNL. He is an expert in educational research studies.  His research interests are in human cognition and motivation as these are manifest in educational and health settings. 

Liz Ingraham is an Associate Professor in the School of Art, Art History, and Design at UNL.  She teaches courses in foundation design and creative thinking.  She has been instrumental in the design and development of the computational creativity exercises, integrating them into courses, and gaining insights into instruction with these exercises.

Each presenter has direct experience with the research and material development as part of the NSF-funded projects that generated the computational creativity exercises, and published findings on the impacts of these exercises on student learning and performance at conferences such as SIGCSE, ICER, and FIE, and journals such as Communications of the ACM, IEEE Transactions on Education, and Contemporary Educational Psychology.  Soh and Ingraham both have been actively involved in the development of the exercises and standalone courses on computational creativity.  They both have had experience teaching courses using these exercises to large and small classrooms.  Shell has led the research educational studies and is an expert in learner profiles.  Shell and Soh have worked together to create and validate knowledge tests used in the studies.  While Soh has provided the expertise in computational thinking, Ingraham has provided the expertise in creative thinking, two key components of the exercises.


(Group members testing their Marble Maze and documenting results on YouTube.)




Key Points


Introduction: Computational Creativity Exercises

What is computational thinking?  What is creativity thinking?  What are computational creativity exercises? What are the components of an exercise?  What are the different exercises?

Š    Presentation-based

Š    30 minutes

Trial-Run:  Storytelling Exercise

With participants broken into groups of four, each group is responsible for completing the Storytelling exercise: each group member writes a chapter independently and then the group meets and merges the chapters to produce a coherent story.  Each group will also respond to both the reflection and analysis questions.

Š    Hands-on, Group Assignments

Š    Report Back

Š    Sharing insights and lessons learned

Š    30 minutes

Research: Findings & Instruments (During Early Dinner)


The educational research study and design behind the project.  What instruments that have been used (surveys, tests)?  What findings have been reported?  What’s the impact of the exercises on major and non-majors, lowerclassmen and upperclassmen, male and female students?  How the project will support educational research, data collection, and co-authoring papers?

Š    Presentation-based

Š    60 minutes

Integration:  Classroom

How to integrate computational creativity exercises into a classroom?  How to grade them?  How to support students?  How to teach subject matter leveraging these exercises?  How to connect lightbulbs of exercises to subject matter?  What are the common issues and challenges?

Š    Short presentation

Š    Panel Q&A discussion

Š    45 minutes

Ideation: Lightbulbs

How to adapt exercises through creating new lightbulbs for a class? 

Š    Hands-on, Group Assignments

Š    Report Back

Š    15 minutes


Each participant is required to bring his or her laptop to the workshop in order to participate in the exercise trial-run session, and in the lightbulb ideation session.