Informatics Research Methodologies
Lecturer's Self Review 2003-04

Alan Bundy


The IRM module ran for the second time this year, following the pattern established last year. The main change was the use of the ERA system to support the paper reviews.

Student Numbers

46 students registered for the module: three times last year's numbers. These broke down as: 6 MSc (3 observing), 15 CS UGs, 13 AI UGs, 12 research postgrads (all observing). The main increase was in UGs. This year the module was correctly classified as an informatics module. This had the effect of ensuring the CS students were invited to attend, and I was given a slot to advertise the module to them, while still keeping it eligible as an AI module, of which there was a severe shortage in first term.

How the Module Went

There were 7 lectures in the first 4 weeks, including 3 guest lectures: 2 by Frank Keller, replacing Helen Pain who was on sabbatical, and 1 by Jennifer Tenzer, replacing Perdita Stevens who was on maternity leave. I also ran two sessions on coursework. 34 students did 25min research presentations. To accomodate so many presentations it was necessary to have an extra slot each week, to run one slot for 90 minutes and to run into the 10th week.

Students had the option to use the ERA expert system for their paper reviews, but could revert to last year's latex template, if they preferred, or use free form. Most used the ERA form and, apart from some teething troubles at the start, this seemed to work well. One of the students is improving ERA for his UG4 project, so I hope to have an improved version next year. IRM students have been and will be further involved in the evaluation of this improved version.

On the whole the module went well and seemed to be very well received by the students, as witnessed, for instance, by the feedback from the questionnaires. The standard of coursework was not as high as in previous years. This probably reflects the wider base of students, rather than the small set of high-flyers the module has attracted in the past. As usual, attendence at student presentations was very low, especially at the 9am KB slot. Since presentations are not assessed, except for the presenter, it is difficult to motivate students to attend, although it can help them learn about presentation, especially since they also get to fill in a feedback form.

With the additional student numbers, coursework marking was a significant burden, taking up a large chunk of each week. This will be reduced a little with the reduction in workload. The use of feedback forms for all three aspects of coursework again worked well.

Plans for Next Year

The planned move from 12 to 10 point modules and from 18 to 20 lecture slots will necessitate some changes. My proposal is to drop two of the six paper reviews and count the best two from four instead of four from six. The proposed new assignment of marks will be: presentation 30%, reviews 15% each, grant proposal 40%. Since I had to use 26 lecture slots this year, I will have no problem filling 20, assuming the numbers keep up.

I plan to use the improved version of ERA next year.

I would like to express my thanks to: the 2 guest lecturers, Frank Keller and Jennifer Tenzer, who helped to make this module a success; Brian Hutchison and Stephen Potter (2nd supervisor) for the improved version of ERA; and to Neil McGillivray, in the ITO, for being an ever present source of advice and help.

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