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You are here: Home Administrative Committees Board of Studies Meetings 7 November 2012 Opening Courses Across Years

Opening Courses Across Years

Summary

At present the School of Informatics offers many courses at more than one SCQF level, usually 10/11 but also 9/10. I suggest simplifying most of these to the higher level only, while expanding routine access for students to the higher-level courses during their honours years. This is a pre-proposal for Board of Studies, which if received positively I will expand into a detailed proposal for a later Board.

Current Situation

At the moment most degrees in the school have an apparently simple structure for the honours years:

  • In the third year, students take courses at SCQF level 9
  • In the fourth year, students take courses at SCQF level 10
  • In MSc or fifth year, students take courses at SCQF level 11

Exactly which courses are available to students differs with their degree programme: all of our courses are associated with one or more of AI, CogSci, CS and SE programme areas.

However, this apparent simplicity is in practice obscured by the following factors:

  • Many courses are offered at more than one level, with identical lectures but some variation in coursework. For 2012/2013 there are 21 such courses.
  • Many programmes allow students to take one or two courses from a higher level.
  • Students often request a concession to take one or two further courses from a higher level.

I propose that we should reduce or eliminate the first component by expanding and regularising the last two.

Although our structure of level 9 in third year, level 10 in fourth year, and level 11 for fifth/MSc appears conventional, it is in fact not that prescribed by the University, whose “Models for Curricula” title years as follows:

  • Year 3: SCQF normally at level 10, sometimes level 9.
  • Year 4: SCQF level 10, sometimes with an opportunity for courses at level 11.

Several schools use higher-level courses than Informatics, in particular Mathematics (level 10 in year 3, levels 10 and 11 in year 4) and PPLS (only level 10 in year 3 and 4).

Links: More about SCQF Level Descriptors; Informatics courses with levels and programme areas; The University of Edinburgh Models for Curricula.

Proposal

I propose the following changes to our degree programmes and courses:

  1. Year 3 should permit a mixture of level 9 and 10 courses
  2. Year 4 should permit a mixture of level 10 and 11 courses
  3. Courses should be offered only at a single level

Some existing courses might keep two levels where there is a real and useful distinction, but the default would be to keep only the higher-level version. Variations and refinements are possible, and I list some details below. In particular, we might limit higher-level courses to those contributing to the specific degree programme.

Motivation

While some courses do sincerely differentiate between level 10 and 11 versions, in many cases the variation is minimal and dual-listing is a fig leaf to permit undergraduate students to join in higher-level courses. Even where there is variation, it is only in coursework, and often in magnitude rather than depth or sophistication.

The nominal 9/10/11 strict assignment to years does not reflect practice either in delivery or student course choices; and this mismatch misleads both staff and students, as well as being an administrative headache.

The existing system is based on a presumption that our final-year undergraduate students are uniformly less academically mature and prepared than incoming masters students. Many staff report that for their classes this is false, and sometimes precisely reversed.

This change would make available to our Honours students a broader range of courses at a wider range of levels.

There is significant effort for both teaching and administrative staff for duplicated courses: keeping track of different cohorts, assignments, multiple mailing lists, entry and examination results. It is not clear to me that this is worth the cost.

All student course choices are automatically validated against our stated degree programme. Where the stated programme does not match practice, as in this, many student entries must be individually processed by hand as “non-validated”.

Details and Variations

Third year

The third-year programme for a degree would have the following general form:

120 credit points of courses, comprising
40 credit points of compulsory level 9 courses
80 credit points of further courses, chosen from
level 9 and 10 courses in the degree programme area
level 9 courses from elsewhere in Informatics
level 9 courses from outside Informatics

Exact numbers differ between degrees, and combined degrees are more complex.There could be minimum or maximum numbers for the credits from each component: for example at least 60 credit points from within the degree programme area, and no more than 10 from outside the School. The level 10 courses might be from all Informatics, rather than just the degree programme area.

One compulsory course, Professional Issues, would remain at level 10.

Fourth year

The fourth-year programme for a degree would have the following general form:

120 credit points of courses, comprising
40 credit points Honours project
80 credit points of further courses, chosen from
level 10 and 11 courses in the degree programme area
level 10 courses from elsewhere in Informatics
level 10 courses from outside Informatics

Again, there would be differences between degrees, and some minimum or maximum numbers for the credits from each component.

Level 9

Introductory courses directed at honours students. Level 9 courses can only be taken in the third year; for compulsory courses, this is no problem.

Level 10

Honours courses which can be taken in either third or fourth year.

Some level 10 courses might perhaps be restricted to fourth-year students only.

Level 11

Advanced courses, aimed at students taking a one-year masters or the fourth or fifth year of an undergraduate degree.

Some level 11 courses might perhaps be open only to those in fifth year or postgraduates.

Benefits

The principal benefit hoped for is to align the formal description of our undergraduate degrees with current practice.

The proposal would open up even more courses to our undergraduate students, in particular more advanced ones. Students would have more flexibility to trade between breadth and depth in building their programme of courses. Exactly how much is opened up, and how much flexibility, would depend on what limits the final programmes place on the number of credit points taken at higher levels.

Students could trade level 10 courses between third and fourth years, making possible combinations previously prevented by semester imbalance or timetabling.

The proposal would remove unhelpful and sometimes meaningless duplication of courses.

Some Possible Difficulties

Although the course list would be 20 lines shorter, degree programmes would be no simpler. Some kinds of extra constraints (no more than X courses at level 11, or Y if in the right subject area) would make them more complex, and should perhaps therefore be avoided.

Students would need more guidance in course choices, as the list of alternatives grows longer. While some students would benefit from the opportunity to take more advanced courses, there is a risk that others might overreach themselves.

Course creep: there could be a tendency to offer only higher and higher-level courses as these would still be notionally available to students. It might be seen as important to maintain a sufficient supply of level 9 courses for those students for whom an all-level-10 programme is not appropriate. However, note that Mathematics have only a handful of level 9 courses, while PPLS have none at all.

Inequity: sometimes different students with the same degree will have taken courses at different levels. This is mitigated by having the list of courses on each student's degree transcript.

Questions

  • Should we go to a full proposal opening level 10 courses to third year?
  • Should we go to a full proposal opening level 11 courses to fourth year?
  • Should these be restricted to those matching the given degree programme?
  • Should there be a limit to the number of level 10(11) courses taken in third (fourth) year?
  • Should we move all our level 9 courses to level 10, like Maths and PPLS?
  • What should we do with “normal year taken” in the DRPS, and “year” in our own sortable list?
  • Should some level 10 and level 11 courses remain restricted to the higher-year students? Which ones and why?
  • Should we avoid Semester 1 examination of level 11 courses open to final-year undergraduates? For these students this period is specifically allocated to their project work.

Ian Stark
2012-11-05