C. O'Donnell, J. Murphy, A. Mahdi, M. English

University of Limerick (IRELAND)
It is widely reported that attrition rates in third level Computer Science (CS) courses are extremely high. Many potential reasons have been suggested for this. These include students being ill-informed in relation to their University course choice and having limited exposure to key topics on the (CS) curriculum prior to their third level experience. Additional reasons include poor mathematical, problem solving and language skills of students. Further reasons highlight limitations in programming lab design and a lack of practice and feedback for students as well as a lack of consensus on the best practice approach to teaching computer programming which is a fundamental part of CS courses.

In this paper we discuss the impact of a series of pre-University and post-University support initiatives for prospective and current ICT students (and in particular CS students) that have been implemented at our University.

The aim of these initiatives is four-fold:
1) to increase retention in ICT related areas;
2) to improve student outcomes;
3) to broaden students ICT skill sets
4) to promote ICT as a career path.

The initiatives include collaborative learning in computer programming courses, augmenting the learning of programming concepts for entry stage students using visual programming tools, peer to peer learning sessions, targeted subject support sessions, revision support classes, student competitions, additional skills workshops and ICT camps for pre-University students.

Over the last 4 years we have attained qualitative student feedback on the support interventions outlined above. In addition, we have investigated how engagement with any of the support initiatives has impacted student retention and progression. In this paper we present our findings in relation to this study. In general student feedback on the support initiatives has been positive and students that engage with some of these initiatives are more likely to progress in their undergraduate programme. However, our analysis also suggests that more work needs to be done focusing on 'at-risk' students.