I have decided to use Head First Android Development for my mobile application development course this spring. Like other Head First books, it is easy to read and understand. In my 15+ years of college teaching, I have never before found myself in the position of not needing to explain the textbook to my students (perhaps because this book is written for a general audience, not an academic one).

In typical classes, I assign reading before lecture (sometimes with questions to force students to at least skim the material) and then spend lecture explaining the harder material from the book, providing illustrative examples and having students work simple problems.

While I could present the examples from the book, I think that would be babying my students, who should be perfectly capable of reading such material themselves. (This is an upper-division capstone course, with many prerequisites.) The subject matter does not lend itself to doing small-scale exercises with pencil and paper, the way I would when teaching computer architecture or programming languages. While I plan to have some guest lecturers, I can't do that every class session.

The class will have about 25 students in a traditional classroom, not a computer lab. Lectures are 75 minutes long, twice a week.

What do other teachers do in this situation, or is having a clear, understandable book unprecedented?

  • 4
    From the point of view of a relatively recent CS student, please don't be a "textbook teacher". I want to learn things that can't be found online or in print - things that aren't just a quick search away. Make your classes exciting and interactive, but not in a socially pressurising way. For example, 'gamifying' your classes could be particularly effective on this topic. Having a clear textbook is by no means a bad thing - it's your job to make the subject approachable and that only serves as evidence of how accessible it really is. Nov 26, 2016 at 5:34

1 Answer 1


For many classes, one doesn't have the students read the material beforehand. I personally am having students do that in my classes this semester, but I'm also not typically lecturing. If you are lecturing, I feel it is often counterproductive to make students read the material you will lecture on in advance (the ones that get the reading won't get much out of your lecture, and some of the ones who don't the reading may be wasting their time).

The main thing I suggest is to think carefully about what are your goals for the class, and use that to guide your course design. (Are the goals just to have the students understand what is in the book? Or something more?)

Here are a few concrete possibilities to consider:

  1. Don't make students read the book in advance, just lecture.
  2. Cover some of the material with out-of-class readings and some with lecture, and maybe have students present some of the material.

Or if you really want them to do a lot of out-of-class reading:

  1. Even if it is a normal lecture class, you can treat many of the classes as labs, and give the students mini-projects to do (possibly in groups/pairs).
  2. Since you said non-computer exercises aren't appropriate, come up with meta-exercise questions for students to discuss in groups (what are pros/cons of Method X? how would you design Y?...)
  3. Spend a little time reviewing the reading and design lectures around additional applications of the material.
  • 1
    Right. Rather than asking yourself, How do I fill up these 50 minutes, ask yourself what learning and sharing activities would be productive, and then ask yourself if there is any background knowledge you should make sure everybody's on the same page about before doing them. Will this course provide opportunities for the students to take a more active role than in the traditional college class? Nov 25, 2016 at 0:24
  • Thank you. I've switched the location from a classroom to a computer lab so I can have students try things out during class. Dec 2, 2016 at 21:33

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