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Meeting Minutes

Informatics Board of Studies

2pm Wednesday 7 November 2012
Appleton Tower Level 4

Minutes

Present: I. Stark (Convenor), M. Rovatsos (Academic Secretary), P. Stevens, J. Oberlander, C. Sutton, K. Kalorkoti, S. Goldwater, P. Anderson, I. Murray, A. Lascarides, D. Sanella, T. Komura, M. Cryan, N. McGillivray, G. Bell, S. King (PPLS), J. Wright (Maths), J. Hulme (School Rep), B. Hong (Class Rep), V. Swann (Secretary)

1. Apologies for Absence: J. Moore, J. Lee, J. Bradfield, J. Hillston, S. Anderson, S. Gilmore, L. Haworth (Engineering)

I. Stark opened the Board of Studies, welcoming all Board Members.  An amendment to the start time of the Board was suggested in order to bring this into line with the recent changes to the Academic Timetable.  I. Stark proposed that all subsequent meetings of the Board should start at 2.10pm.  This was approved by the Board. 

It was noted that the MInf Project Proposal has now moved to Item 4.

2. Minutes of the Previous Meeting

The minutes of the previous meeting were accepted as a true record. Most actions have now been completed, as recorded by notes in the minutes.  The following action remains:

  3.2. M. Rovatsos to raise the issue of course workload for IJP and AGTA at Teaching Committee

  4. M. Rovatsos to raise the issue general issue of coursework load at Teaching Committee

3. Matters Arising

Nothing further reported.

4. Course Proposal: MInf Project (Part 1) and MInf Project (Part 2) — K. Kalorkoti (Case for support and Course Descriptors)

K. Kalorkoti outlined the proposal to amend the MInf Project.  The primary motivation to introduce the 40 credit project in year 4 is to create an exit route so that students not progressing to the final MInf year can leave with an Honours Degree.  Currently students are only able to leave with an Ordinary Degree and this is not considered to be representative of the work achieved by the end of fourth year.  Further motivations are outlined in detail in the Case for Support.

The MInf Project (Part 1) taken in year 4 would follow a similar format to the standard UG4 Project, with the additional requirement that the student provides an outline of the intended direction for MInf Project (Part 2).  The MInf Project (Part 2) would be similar to the existing Phase 2, but reduced from 60 credits to 40 credits.  This would bring the overall project scale, from 100 credit points to 80, closer to the practice of other schools and still above the University minimum 60 for Integrated Masters. Students would be required to include a fixed-length summary of work undertaken in Part 1 at the start of their final dissertation before presenting new material developing from this.

Both Student Reps reported their approval of this proposal.  J. Hulme, currently in the fourth year of the MInf programme, feels that this would benefit the programme.  He particularly praised the introduction of an appropriate exit route from year 4.

I. Stark, as convenor, relayed some concerns raised by email from those not able to attend the meeting. K. Kalorkoti had already responded to these directly, and reported on these to the Board.  

One such concern was that reducing the project in year 5 from 60 to 40 credits would require students to take a further 20 credits of Level 11 courses.  The demanding nature of Level 11 courses are often a strain on MSc students and the requirement for MInf students to undertake a project simultaneously might cause difficulties for some.  K. Kalorkoti suggested that MInf students are in a stronger position to meet that burden than external MSc students, having much more specific experience with Informatics during their previous 4 years of study.  MInf students are also well underway with their project and will have completed Part 1 with a clear understanding of what they wish to achieve in Part 2.  B. Hong, as MInf year 5 class rep, said he felt a 40 credit project alongside 80 credits of technical courses would be wholly appropriate.

More generally, K. Kalorkoti suggested that there might indeed be a problem with workload on some of our Level 11 courses, but that the appropriate response would be to address that problem directly rather than compromise the MInf project. Members of the Board recommended some monitoring of the impact on study hours in MInf year 5.

A further concern was the loss of an identified planning phase.  K. Kalorkoti explained that planning will still be an integral part of MInf Project (Part 1) and that Part 2 would enable the students to delve deeper than would be possible in a standard Honours Project.

It was suggested that staff may find it difficult to switch between different marking requirements for the UG4 Honours Project and the MInf Project (Part 1). K. Kalorkoti recommended that two distinct webmark forms should be created with specific guidance for markers.  Using different prompt questions on the form could also highlight the specific requirements of this project.

I. Stark asked about the timing of introduction, and whether Part 2 could be introduced immediately for 2013/2014. K. Kalorkoti acknowledged that this was possible, but he did not recommend it, and the Board concurred.

P. Stevens noted that a change in project details was relevant for professional accreditation of the degree programme, and the BCS should be contacted regarding this.

The introduction of an Honours exit route allows the possibility of a hurdle for progression to MInf year 5, as already exists between years 3 and 4. This would lead weaker students to exit with Honours, avoiding the risk of failing to meet the demands of the MInf final year.  The current proposal only allows the exit route, and does not enforce it.  K. Kalorkoti recognised that the introduction of such a hurdle was possible, but he was not proposing it and recommended the topic be left until we have more experience with the revised programme.

In contrast, the similarity between the MInf Project (Part 1) and the standard Honours Project might enable strong Honours students to transfer to the MInf.  This was previously not possible due to the discrepancy between the two projects.

The Board voted and the proposal was passed 11 to 2 with 2 abstentions.

OUTCOME: Approved.
ACTION: Create Courses in EUCLID for 2013/2014 (Part 1) and 2014/2015 (Part 2).  Close existing courses when appropriate. (COMPLETED 2013-02-14)
ACTION: Contact BCS regarding approval for this course. (J. Longley, M. Rovatsos)
ACTION: Monitor workload in 4th and 5th Year using an MInf work diary. (UG4 Project co-ordinator)
ACTION: Create new marking forms for Inf Project (Part 1) and MInf Project (Part 2), clearly distinguished from those for the Honours Project. (K. Kalorkoti)

5. Opening more higher-level courses across years – I. Stark (Proposal)

I. Stark spoke to the item tabled. Presently the School of Informatics offers Honours courses across three years, based on a scheme that students take SCQF level 9 courses in year 3, level 10 in year 4, and level 11 in year 5 or MSc.  However, this does not reflect actual practice: many courses are offered at two different levels with sometimes only minor differences in work required, so that they can be taken in different years; and students often take one or more courses at other levels. The University model curriculum identifies year 3 as normally level 10, and many schools treat level 10 as the standard level for Honours with students taking level 10 courses in both third and fourth year.  The proposal is that courses should be delivered at a single level and the DPTs amended to allow students to continue to attend them.  This is a pre-proposal and if Board Members are in favour, I. Stark will bring the item back to the Board at a later date with specific DPTs for approval.

There was general approval for this proposal in principle, in particular to allow third-year students to take level 10 courses.  There was concern that if the level 10/11 distinction is removed, fourth-year students would be overloaded with the more demanding level 11 versions.  However, it was noted that often the only difference is an additional piece of coursework included purely to provide a distinction, and it may be appropriate to retain the lower workload for the single-classification level 11 course. This would also address some concerns raised in the previous discussion about the high workload in some level 11 courses.

K. Kalorkoti expressed concern that some level 10 courses may be inappropriate for third-year students.  He identified Computer Algebra as having no specific UG3 pre-requisite courses yet requiring a level of sophistication and maturity appropriate only to students who have already completed year 3. Some members of the Board challenged this. I. Stark noted that courses would still retain a "normal year taken" and DPTs could restrict access by third-year students to particular level 10 courses intended for fourth-year students only.

There was concern over the requirement to provide resit exams for courses taken by 3rd Year students in the cases where a student has Special Circumstances or will resit courses to exit with an Ordinary Degree. I. Stark confirmed that any level 10 course newly opened up to third-year students would have to be prepared to provide resits for students seeking the Ordinary degree. There was, however, no requirement to provide separate level 9 versions of such courses for Ordinary students.

S. King from PPLS noted that many of their courses have versions at level 10 and level 11 where the courses are identical but rated at 20 credit points for level 11 and 10 credit points for level 10.

I. Stark highlighted that the intention is to retain current Level 9 courses where appropriate, but that the proposal would allow some courses currently listed at level 9 to seek reclassification at level 10 if the existing course content meets that standard.  This would mean students could take these courses in either third or fourth year. It was emphasised that such reclassification must not lead to courses becoming more difficult and thereby narrowing the options available to third-year students.  Lecturers should operate on the assumption that courses cannot be changed but might be reclassified.

There was a further possibility raised that Informatics might follow PPLS and designate all Honours courses as level 10, allowing students yet more flexibility to take them across years. This was not supported by the Board, with strong individual objections. This will not be pursued.

OUTCOME: Many Board members are in favour of this change in principle, subject to provision of further details.
ACTION:
I. Stark to bring this item back to the Board with further details and specific DPTs for approval. (COMPLETED 2013-02-06)

6. Student access to third-year courses in fourth-year - J. Hulme (Proposal, Student Survey)

J. Hulme reported on some problems and limitations for students in choosing Honours. In particular, many popular courses are available only in third year which constrains choices and makes some desirable course combinations impractical. This also causes problems for students spending year 3 abroad, who cannot do these course at all. He had surveyed current students to assess the extent of concern, which courses are particularly in demand to be taken in either year, and any possible resolutions.

M. Rovatsos had investigated the University regulations and raised with College the question of fourth-year students taking level 9 courses. It is clear that this it is not possible to give Senior Honours credit for this, and he cannot even award a concession to do so in individual cases. 

Student responses to the survey had highlighted the importance of progression from year to year as part of the overall structure of the degree programme. One possibility would be to declare all Honours courses level 10, as in some other schools, designating the as year 3 or year 4 as appropriate. However, the Board saw several disadvantages to this, as already discussed in the previous item, and did not wish to take that course.

Nonetheless, it was clear that the previous proposal on cross-year availability may make solutions for some combinations possible, and the Board agreed this should be taken into account when developing the proposal in item 5.

OUTCOME: No immediate change, but the problems identified will be taken into account when following up the action from item 5.

7. Course Proposals: Design Informatics (Case for Support, Course Descriptors: Case Study 1, Case Study 2, Placement, Dissertation)

I. Stark explained to the Board that the Design Informatics programmes had previously been approved by the Board of Studies and College, and are being advertised in the University prospectus for 2013 entry.  This item is to consider the individual courses, which had been proposed in draft form at the time of programme approval but are now presented for final confirmation.

J. Oberlander described changes since these were last presented to the Board.  The earlier proposal to offer an Informatics course for design students has now been withdrawn, and Informatics only need to offer 4 courses as part of the Design Informatics Degrees.  All other courses will be offered by Edinburgh College of Art.  Amendments to the Case for Support and Course Descriptors have been implemented following suggestions by M. Rovatsos.

The Dissertation will be very similar to the standard Informatics Dissertation, in particular being judged on the dissertation alone.  The 1 year Masters in Design Informatics will undertake this over Summer, whilst the 2 year Advanced Masters in Design Informatics will complete the Dissertation during Semesters 1 and 2 of Year 2.  The structure in the Case for Support provides an overview of the timing of the Dissertation within the two degrees. There was some discussion around the technicalities of course descriptors: although the content of these will be identical to the standard Informatics Dissertation, timing differences may require separate entries in the course catalogue.  The key difference is the flexible delivery, which is not available to Informatics MSc students.

J. Oberlander noted that the Course Descriptor for Case Study 1 provides an outline of procedure rather than content, reflecting the fact that specific topics of case study will change year to year.  The Case Study 1 exemplar gives an indication of possible content.

Clarification was requested for the content of the Case Study each year.  J. Oberlander confirmed that in a given academic year, the students on Case Study 1 and Case Study 2 will study the same material but with differing responsibilities and will each produce their own Case Study.  Students on the two year programme will undertake a different Case Study during each year of their programme.  In addition, students undertaking Case Study 2 will develop the project to allow this to be retaught at a later stage.

A concern was raised that the numbers for each cohort would need to match appropriately.  J. Oberlander confirmed that there is flexibility in group size for smaller and larger cohorts in Year 1.  The first year of the programme will be led by tutors as Year 2 students are not yet in place to lead the Case Study.  It was recommended that the short course descriptor should specify minimum and maximum group sizes.

It was noted that the short course descriptors given were rather academic, and might better be used to give a summary of the courses for prospective students. 

There was a recommendation that the 1 week symposium should be removed from the Course Descriptor to avoid specific commitments in terms of course delivery.  This could be included in the study pattern using the free text.  It is also important to consider the timing of the symposium alongside other courses to ensure students are not overloaded.

J. Oberlander also confirmed that the dissertation would be marked in accordance with standard MSc Dissertation guidelines and no separate marking form is required.  The mark would be given on the Dissertation itself rather than the artefact produced and externals would consider borderline cases using similar criteria.  In particular they will not be asked to take the aesthetic value of the artefact into consideration.  

I. Stark suggested that the Course Descriptors are accepted subject to the changes discussed.  The Board Approved these courses.

OUTCOME: All courses are approved subject to changes.
ACTION: J. Oberlander to make required changes and submit to M. Rovatsos for final approval. (COMPLETED 2012-11-22)
ACTION: Create courses in Euclid for 2013/14 and 2014/15 as required. (COMPLETED 2013-02/14)
ACTION: Submit courses to College Learning and Teaching Committee for ratification. (COMPLETED 2012-11-27)

8. Notice of Items

I. Stark listed items in preparation for future Boards, and invited anyone interested in these to contact the named proposers.

9. AOCB

E. Dickson is preparing for the PG Open Day.  There are currently only 17 people registered to attend so academic staff are asked to publicise this to 4th Year and MSc students who might be thinking of applying for an MSc or PhD.