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Report from Director of Teaching

Arriving Students

This year our undergraduate intake has increased, with 185 new first-year students in Informatics. This means 240 or more on some INF1 courses, and we expect to duplicate the programming exams to handle these large numbers. This has happened before, and as then we have investigated and rejected a number of workarounds to avoid this. It is possible that INF1-OP may be examined using central university computer labs, which could allow a single sitting.

Admissions to the MSc degrees are down, to 160, which was expected after we significantly increased our overseas fees. This should make MSc project allocation and supervision more readily achieved this year.

Personal Tutors

The University's new Personal Tutor scheme was started this year, after an extremely rapid introduction. Each student has a Personal Tutor, replacing the Director of Studies, with one-to-one meetings each semester and additional group activities for tutees. Every school also has a Student Support Team (for us, the ITO) and there are new Student Information Points in the libraries.

Some additional features in EUCLID were introduced to support this, in particular the facility for staff and students to keep records of meetings held and decisions taken. These new arrangements led to very heavy loading of EUCLID during the first week of the year, which did not go well. The system became unusably slow for long periods and failed entirely on the second day of use.

Arrangements for this through the rest of the year are still not entirely clear. Paul Jackson, as Senior Tutor, and all of the individual Personal Tutors, have worked extremely hard in very uncertain conditions to continue to provide good personal support for all students.

Student Representation

Weekly meetings with the student reps continue this year, and are reported online. These include all class and school reps, the ITO, myself and Michael Rovatsos, as well as a rotation of year organisers. Reps have swiftly relayed a large number of comments and issues with individual courses to year organisers and to the meeting.

Links: Meeting blog; Student reps

Year Organisers

We have an entirely new set of year organisers at UG1–5 and MSc for 2012/2013.

UG1 Paul Anderson
UG2 Colin Stirling
UG3 Vijay Nagarajan
UG4 Mary Cryan
UG5 David Aspinall
MSc Iain Murray

Course Survey Results

As reported by Mary Cryan, at the end of last year students completed new online surveys giving feedback on courses, with results collated and presented online to all staff and students. Several course lecturers have since reported on their actions in response to student comments, and these are also published.

National Reporting: NSS / KIS / HEAR

The National Student Survey for 2012 was published at the end of September, and our results have changed only slightly since last year despite a much large number of respondents (93 this year against 57 last year).

Overall, 86% of students expressed themselves satisfied with our courses, which is Russell Group median. Broken down into "primary measures", all our ratings are above 75% except, as before, assessment and feedback. There we have improved from 43% last year to 48% this year, but this is still very low compared to the corresponding departments in all other UK universities.

We have had to prepare a range of other nationally-coordinated teaching reports over the last few months: Key Information Sets (KIS) for prospectuses and the UK Unistats website; and detailed descriptions of all degree programmes for the Higher Education Achievement Reports (HEAR) which will extend existing student transcripts.

Student Entry Requirements

There are a several continuing issues around admission criteria and ensuring students are properly prepared for study on our degrees. Some of these are already being discussed with College admissions staff.

  • English language skills, particularly for MSc students
  • Maths qualifications, for undergraduate students
  • Programming experience, for MSc students
  • Late arrival, particularly for MSc students

InfBASE and Tutor Training

The InfBASE student helpdesk is running again this year, now in AT5.03 and staffed Monday–Thursday afternoons. Susen Rabold is organising this and als the training for postgraduate students working as tutors and demonstrators. As well as paying tutors to attend courses with the University's Institute for Academic Development (IAD) we are running Informatics-specific versions of the basic IAD training.

We also have a small number of students holding Principal's Career Development PhD Scholarships in Teaching. They carry out tutoring and other teaching work as part of their scholarships, as well as training and professional development work towards accreditation by the Higher Education Academy.

Links: InfBASE; Principal's Career Development PhD Scholarships

MOOCs and Distance Learning

The University has signed a contract with Coursera to provide MOOCs, massive open online courses: free teaching delivered by recorded video and web exercises to tens of thousands of students at a time. Edinburgh is initially offering six MOOCs, with one from Informatics: Artificial Intelligence Planning by Austin Tate and Gerhard Wickler. This is a five-week course starting in January 2013.

Edinburgh also offers over 30 online postgraduate programmes, usually leading to a Certificate, Diploma, or Masters degree after three years study. These distance learning programmes are more substantial, with tuition fees and selective admission. Informatics are not currently involved in any of these, but might contribute individual courses to existing programmes. Anyone interested in this, or with suggestions of suitable courses, should contact Austin Tate.

Links: Coursera Edinburgh; University of Edinburgh Distance Learning; MOOCs at Edinburgh

Ian Stark
2012-10-24