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Journal of Information Systems Education

Abstract

Educators have been using the Towers of Hanoi problem for many years as an example of a problem that has a very elegant recursive solution. However, the elegance and conciseness of this solution can make it difficult for students to understand the amount of computer time required in the execution of this solution. And, like many recursive computer programs, students often find it difficult to follow a trace of the solution. Research in computer education has shown that active learning exercises achieve positive educational results. In line with this research, an active learning exercise was employed in the classroom to assist students in gaining a better understanding of the recursive solution to the Towers of Hanoi problem. This demonstration can be used in an introductory IS or CS programming class, independent of the language used. The demonstration involves using student volunteers, who, in the demonstration, are referred to as “monks,” a reference to the original problem that had monks moving the golden rings in the Towers of Hanoi. An anonymous student survey revealed that students felt strongly that the demonstration helped them better understand recursion, and that the demonstration was a good use of class time. In addition, an analysis of a small sample of students’ computer programs following the demonstration, suggests that there may be pedagogical benefits to use of the student monk demonstration.

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