Informatics Research Methodologies
Lecturer's Self Review 2006-07

Alan Bundy


I returned as lecturer for IRM this year, following last year when Jon Oberlander was lecturer. This year was also the first time that the new level 10 version of IRM was run for UG4 students and, hence, the first time we ran the Project Analysis coursework, which was devised as an alternative to the Paper Rewriting for the level 10 students. There was a hiccup at the start of term because IRM was recorded as an Inf4 course, which counted as neither AI4 or CS4 for quota purposes. It was clear that it should be countable for either. This was generally agreed by all concerned, and the problem was rapidly solved.

Student Numbers

23 students registered for the course, breaking down as 14 UG4s, 3 MScs and 6 others (PhDs, MScRes, visitor). Thus the overall numbers were similar to previous years, but with a big swing to UG4s. I've no idea why MSc numbers --- previously the mainstay of the course --- were down so dramatically.

How the Module Went

There were 7 lectures in the first 4 weeks, including 3 guest lectures: 2 by Frank Keller and 1 by Perdita Stevens. I also ran two sessions on coursework. All 21 students did 25min research presentations (2 PhDs declined the offer).

This year students could use the upgraded ERA4 for their paper reviews, as well as the latex template or free form. Unfortunately, the server that ERA4 was running on went down just prior to the first review deadline. Although, I extended the deadline by 24 hours and, with the help of Stephen Potter, provided the old ERA3 for the occasion, many students were put off ERA4 and the latex template or free form was used much more than usual.

Deadline adherence was much better this year, with only 3 occasions on which students missed the deadline, and then only by a few hours. Unfortunately, a legal problem arose with setting coursework deadlines at 5pm Sunday. Since weekends don't count under the University's new uniform late penalty system, we were unable to penalise students unless they submitted after midnight on Sunday. Consequently, I will need to look at rescheduling the deadlines to a weekday.

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. Some found the guest lectures a little dry. I think it was a mistake to have so many at the beginning of the course, and will move them after my introductory lectures for future years. The standard of coursework was again very high. Attendance at student presentations also held up well this year, until the final week when other courses' end of semester deadlines interfered. The only criticism from the Staff/Student Liaison meeting was timetable clashes preventing some students attending. The ITO promised to look at timetabling general courses, such as IRM, to avoid such clashes in future.

Plans for Next Year

As mentioned above, the main changes next year will be a rearrangement in the timing of the guest lectures and a change in coursework deadline times, e.g. to 4pm Friday. I will also start recruiting review papers much earlier, so I'm not forced, as this year, to recycle old ones.

Once again, I would like to express my thanks to the 2 guest lecturers, Frank Keller and Perdita Stevens, who helped to make this module a success, and to Neil McGillivray, in the ITO, for being an ever present source of advice and help.

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