Collective Bin Packing: An Active Learning Exercise

Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges, 24(6):117-123, .



Active learning has become an important part of effective computer science pedagogy. Active learning helps to keep students engaged in the learning process and is useful at all levels of computer science education from introductory courses on programming through more advanced upper level topics and graduate level coursework. In this paper, we present an active learning exercise that we developed for use in courses on artificial intelligence for demonstrating heuristic search concepts as well as concepts related to swarm intelligence. We have also found the exercise useful in an interdisciplinary course for non-majors to demonstrate some of the problem solving approaches of computer science. It is also applicable to courses on discrete mathematics. The exercise that we call Collective Bin Packing is an adaptation of the well-known combinatorial optimization problem known as bin packing. During the exercise, students take turns deciding upon individual problem solving steps. A follow-up class discussion draws out the algorithmic elements of the students’ collective reasoning process. An interactive Java application is used to facilitate the group problem solving exercise.