Informatics Research Methodologies
Lecturer's Self Review 2007-08

Alan Bundy


IRM ran as a joint level 10 and level 11 course for the second year, successfully using last year's format. This year I reorganised the guest lectures so that they came later in the schedule, because their early scheduling seemed to have caused problems last year. The new timetable seems to have solved the clashes reported last year, so no students reported problems in attending. Originally, IRM was located in an unsuitable room in DHT, but I spotted that before the start of lectures and we moved to the new lecture/terminal room in AT4. This worked out well. It was especially convenient for the students to have access to a DICE desktop wired to the data-projector, and several students took advantage of this for their presentations. Sometimes it was necessary to relocate some non-IRM students, e.g. to behind the pillars, before starting the session. Although I tried to recruit papers for review early, I did not get many viable suggestions. Nevertheless, I was able to find 4 new papers and did not have to recycle old ones. I expect to find plenty of candidate papers from my experience as a member of the RAE panel, so that should keep me going for a few years.

Student Numbers

27 students registered for the course, breaking down as 22 UG4s (including one VisUG), 3 MScs and 2 PhDs. This represents a 50% increase in UG4 numbers over last year, the same number of MScs and a reduction in others. I had no drop-outs from the course and several people switched to IRM from other courses, which I find very encouraging. I'm still at a loss to understand the drop in MSc numbers, which used to be the mainstay of the course, especially as my introductory 10 minute advert for the course was this year delivered to both MScs and UG4s. The reduction in PhDs was probably due to my not actively recruiting them this year. In the past they have played little role after attending the introductory lectures. This was especially true this year, when pressure on presentation slots meant I had to restrict these to students being assessed, thus excluding PhD presentations. A quota of 30 students was imposed due to the lack of presentation slots, but this quota was not reached. However, I miscalculated the available presentation slots and the quota should have been set at 24.

How the Module Went

There were 8 lectures in the first 4 weeks, including 3 guest lectures: 2 by Frank Keller and 1 by Perdita Stevens. This is an increase of one lecture over last year, due to my reorganising and updating the material. I also ran two sessions on coursework. The 25 assessed students each gave a 25 min research presentation. Due to the lack of presentation slots, exacerbated by my having to cancel one session because of a compulsory EPSRC meeting, it was necessary to extend 5 of the sessions by 25 min to create an extra presentation slot.

For their reviews, once again the students had a choice of ERA4, the latex template or free form. The latex form was by far the most popular and most successful. In particular, ERA4 seems not to encourage high quality reviews. This expert-system-based approach to reviewing seems to have some fundamental flaw that needs investigation. Currently, I cannot encourage its use and should consider whether to withdraw it as an option in the future.

Following the legal issues with Sunday deadlines, discovered last year, I shifted the deadlines to 4pm Fridays. This seemed to work well. Deadline adherance was generally excellent, with problems arising only with the final deadline for the project analyses and paper rewriting. This seems to be due to competition with other deadlines in week 11, and was especially a problem for the MSc students, all of whom were given extensions by the course organiser. For next year, I should consider bringing this deadline forward to avoid the competition. However, it is not easy to see how to do this, as the first review deadline is already early and deadlines then follow every fortnight. An alternative would be to shift the final deadline to semester 2, giving students the Xmas vacation to complete this work. Another alternative would be to reduce the number of paper reviews to 3, so that the final deadline could be in week 9, but this would restrict choice of papers to review.

On the whole the module once again went well and seemed to be very well received by the students. However, I've yet to receive any feedback from the student rep, questionnaires or SSL meeting, so may have to rewrite this section. The standard of coursework was again generally very high. There was only one significant problem with some UG4s missing the point of the project analysis, and merely writing a project summary. I've addressed this by providing a latex template, which provides guidance on what the analysis should contain. This will be used next year. There was also an isolated incident of plagiarism in the paper rewriting, which appears to be due to poor scholarship. Attendance at student presentations also held up again well this year, until, as usual, the final week when other courses' end of semester deadlines interfered. The student's were especially proactive in asking questions at their classmates' presentations, which was very encouraging.

Plans for Next Year

If I can find a viable way to avoid an 11th week deadline, I will do so. I will also encourage use of my new project analysis template and discourage use of ERA4 for the paper reviews. I should consider a 24 person quota on the course to ensure that there are enough presentation slots to go around without increasing the session length.

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 Gillian Watt, in the ITO, and the two course organisers, Amos Storkey and Douglas Armstrong, for being ever present sources of advice and help.

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