Senior Honors Projects, 2020-current

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation



Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (BS)


Department of Computer Science


Dee A. B. Weikle

Michael S. Kirkpatrick

Christopher S. Mayfield

Angela W. Webb


James Madison University’s Computer Science program strives to be a student-centered learning environment with a focus on creating a community for undergraduate success. National data reveals computer science has the lowest student retention rate compared to other STEM majors. The National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) has compiled a list of ways to retain students in Computer Science. In particular, NCWIT calls for collaboration indicate that “a sense of belonging, or a feeling of fit, is important for supporting student interest and persistence.” One aspect of creating community is the department’s longstanding commitment to provide undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs). Traditionally, TAs provide one-on-one help in the classroom and also hold supplementary lab hours in the evenings to answer questions. As part of this honors project, we have developed a new program called “The Fourth Hour” to increase student retention. Led by TAs using Peer Instruction (PI), these weekly study sessions provide a structured review of introductory topics.

The aim of this research is to discover if weekly study sessions promote an environment in which students feel an increased sense of belonging and improved course material retention. In the Fall 2019 semester, JMU offered ten sections of CS149, the introductory programming course, also known as “CS1” in the literature. Each section had approximately 30 students enrolled. Four TAs were chosen to lead one study session each week using the same lesson materials. Three attitudinal surveys were administered over the duration of the semester to collect data on student demographics, self-efficacy, and sense of belonging. Pre- and post assessment results were recorded to test student course material retention. Study session attendance was also collected to discern if there was a correlation with student demographics, self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and/or course material retention. Anomalies in the data and inconsistent attendance rates limited the statistical significance of our results. However, our qualitative analysis suggests that the study sessions had a positive impact on students. As a result, the CS department is planning to continue offering the Fourth Hour program.



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