Here you will find all of my publications and their references. Some were published under my maiden name, Esper. Some of them are PDF accessible, some you can purchase, and others require logging into a portal.


2012 - Published as Sarah Esper

The Abstraction Transition Taxonomy: Developing Desired Learning Outcomes through the Lens of Situated Cognition

We report on a post-hoc analysis of introductory programming lecture materials. The purpose of this analysis is to identify what knowledge and skills we are asking students to acquire, as situated in the activity, tools, and culture of what programmers do and how they think. The specific materials analyzed are the 133 Peer Instruction questions used in lecture to support cognitive apprenticeship -- honoring the situated nature of knowledge. We propose an Abstraction Transition Taxonomy for classifying the kinds of knowing and practices we engage students in as we seek to apprentice them into the programming world. We find students are asked to answer questions expressed using three levels of abstraction: English, CS Speak, and Code. Moreover, many questions involve asking students to transition between levels of abstraction within the context of a computational problem. Finally, by applying our taxonomy in classifying a range of introductory programming exams, we find that summative assessments (including our own) tend to emphasize a small range of the skills fostered in students during the formative/apprenticeship phase.


Quintin Cutts, Sarah Esper, Marlena Fecho, Stephen R. Foster, and Beth Simon. 2012. The abstraction transition taxonomy: developing desired learning outcomes through the lens of situated cognition. In Proceedings of the ninth annual international conference on International computing education research (ICER '12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 63-70.

2011 - Published as Sarah Esper

Computing as the 4th "R": a general education approach to computing education

Computing and computation are increasingly pervading our lives, careers, and societies - a change driving interest in computing education at the secondary level. But what should define a "general education" computing course at this level? That is, what would you want every person to know, assuming they never take another computing course? We identify possible outcomes for such a course through the experience of designing and implementing a general education university course utilizing best-practice pedagogies. Though we nominally taught programming, the design of the course led students to report gaining core, transferable skills and the confidence to employ them in their future. We discuss how various aspects of the course likely contributed to these gains. Finally, we encourage the community to embrace the challenge of teaching general education computing in contrast to and in conjunction with existing curricula designed primarily to interest students in the field.

Quintin Cutts, Sarah Esper, and Beth Simon. 2011. Computing as the 4th "R": a general education approach to computing education. ICER 2011. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 133-138.

Experience Report: an AP CS Principles AP Requirement

We report on the development and deployment of a pilot of the new Advanced Placement CS Principles course in the United States. The course is designed to introduce core computational concepts and instill computational thinking practices. We report on an initial offering with 571 university students, mostly non-CS majors taking the course as a general education requirement. We discuss the instructional design supporting the course, describe how the various components were implemented, and review student work and valuation of the course. Though the course appears to “teach programming” in Alice, students reported gaining significant analysis and communication skills they could use in their daily life. We reflect on how instructional design decisions are likely to have supported this experience and consider the implications for other K-12 computing/IT education efforts as well as for regular CS1 courses.

Beth Simon, Sarah Esper and Quintin Cutts. 2011. Experience Report: an AP CS Principles University Pilot.  Technical Report CS 2011-0965. University of California at San Diego.