A typical college curriculum does not make it easy for students to establish connections between required general education courses and courses in their majors. Intentional linking of courses from different disciplines using interdisciplinary pedagogical strategies allows students to make those connections while developing the interdisciplinary skills which will benefit their college and post-college careers.
In addition to communication, critical thinking and reasoning, and collaborative skills, it has been recently argued that computational thinking (i.e., the application of computing concepts and methods to solve problems) should also be a part of a twenty-first century liberal education for a broad range of college students, including those not majoring in computing. Computational thinking concepts and skills can help students frame problems in a variety of fields and disciplines (not just STEM disciplines) using novel strategies, and, in so doing, to become better problem solvers in their professions.
At our institution, many students not majoring in computing (or a STEM discipline) take a first-year problem-solving with computer programming course (PS), which is designed for Computer Science majors, to satisfy the computer literacy/fluency requirement in their degree or to learn computational thinking concepts and skills. However, since PS is a gateway course for Computer Science majors, it is even more challenging for non-majors, resulting in high non-passing and withdrawal rates. To integrate computational thinking in required liberal arts courses, we created a general education interdisciplinary course, Programming Narratives: Computer Animated Storytelling, aimed at non-computer majors, which emphasizes creative writing and computational thinking. In this interdisciplinary course, students learn the structure of narrative, concepts of problem solving, and the logic of computer programming languages as they develop a narrative-driven video game prototype. This process helps students achieve the college-wide learning goal of making meaningful and multiple connections among the liberal arts majors, as well as between the liberal arts and the areas of study leading to a major or profession.
Our findings suggest that the learning objectives and the pedagogical approaches used in the course are adequate for a broad range of non-computer majors. Performance on writing and computing assessments as well as final grades (75% of students obtained a grade of C or better) indicated that a vast majority of students successfully achieved the learning objectives. These results were consistent with student perceptions as reflected in an end-of-course survey. There is also evidence that students satisfactorily integrated creative writing and computer programming to develop their video game prototypes, making in-depth interdisciplinary connections along the way. We believe that this intentional emphasis on connections between disciplines develops the interdisciplinary skills and perspectives which are important for graduation, and it lays the groundwork for interdisciplinary thinking in the workplace.