Informatics Research Methodologies
Lecturer's Self Review 2008-09

Alan Bundy


IRM ran in much the same format, venue, timetable, etc as last year. I replaced one of the lectures with a new one discussing the huge variety of methodologies employed in informatics research, drawn from my experience with the RAE 2008 submissions. This seemed to go well. I now also have a large collection of candidate papers for review, which should last me several years. Non-IRM students in AT 4.12 caused more disruption than last year and I several times had to ask them to keep quiet during student presentations and/or to move behind the pillars. On one occasion, due to refurbishment in other labs, AT 4.12 was full of non-IRM students, who had to be asked to leave.

Student Numbers

Only 17 students registered for the course -- a 37% drop from last year. They broke down as 13 UG4s, 2 MScs and 2 PGs, only one of the PGs stayed the course. I'm still trying to understand the low numbers of MScs, given that they peaked at 12 in 2004-05 and many of our MScs are interested to pursue a PhD. The Course Organiser, Douglas Armstrong, suggested there might be a perceived overlap with IRR. I think this is a misconception -- the two courses don't really overlap -- so I wonder what I can do to correct it. Apart from one of the PGs not taking an active part in the presentations, I had no drop-outs, but no drop-ins either. A quota of 24 was imposed this year, but, as you can see, it was not needed.

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, plus two sessions on coursework. The 16 students each gave a 25 min research presentation.

IRM took part in the video capture programme led by Bob Fisher and his students. The 8 lectures were videoed. This was only partially successful due to technical problems, but for half of the lectures we now have videos linked to the webpage. If the technical problems can be resolved, I hope that videos of all the lectures will be linked in time for next year. I will monitor whether this affects class attendance.

Each lecture currently has recommended reading and the slides linked to the webpage. I have started to compose lecture notes to add to these.

Along with other courses, IRM suffered at the start of semester from a breakdown in the automatic DACS feeds to our School Database, which disrupted the mechanism for assigning permission to visit the paper review webpages. I had to extend email the relevant materials directly to students who could not access them.

The use of the ERA4 review assistant was better this year, but most students elected to use the latex template form. Generally, the standard of reviews was very high. The presentations were also of generally high quality, with the students taking their slide preparation very seriously. The quality of the paper rewriting and project analysis was not quite to the same high standard as the other course-works, perhaps due to pressure of rival deadlines at the end of semester, but was still very good. The UG4 students had the benefit of the new latex template for project analysis, which improved the overall quality over previous years.

Deadline adherence was excellent, with no one missing the deadlines by more than a few minutes. Marked coursework was returned promptly. The students got an annotated copy of their paper reviews, project analyses and paper rewritten papers. They also got a mark sheet with comments for the presentations, project analyses and rewritten papers. As usual, I was available for 2 'office hours' a week, but no students took advantage of this.

On the whole the module went well, and this is reflected in the student reps report. The only significant criticism was a request for more personal feedback on coursework. I've reminded the students that they can visit me to get additional feedback, e.g., during my 'office hours'.

Plans for Next Year

I intend to complete the set of lecture notes for the next academic session. I also hope we will have videos of all the lectures, but we may need to rerun the video capture next year to complete the set.

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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