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Computing and Communications AL Development Conference 2020

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On 28 November 2020, staff tutors and associate lecturers from the School of Computing and Communications ran an online AL development conference. What follows is a slightly delayed blog summary of what was roughly covered during that event.

The event began with welcome and introduction from Christine Gardner, who played a lead role in putting the event together.

Curriculum updates

John Woodthorpe, C&C director of teaching, presented what could be described as a teaching update. John highlighted a current challenge that is facing the school, reporting that “of the 30 modules that have [student registration] caps, 23 of those are in computing”.

John gave an overview of qualifications. The main qualification that is based in the school is Q62, the BSc (Honours) Computing and IT.  There is also Q67, Computing and IT with a second subject, such as maths, business, engineering and psychology. John gave an overview the Q62 qualification, mentioning that students have to do a maths module, and that there is a limited choice of modules they can choose if students wish to choose a specialism.

The school has recently introduced a new qualification, R60, BSc (Honours) Cyber SecurityThree important modules in this qualification includes TM256 Cyber security (due to be presented in February 22), TM311 Information security (October 21), and TM359 Systems penetration testing (February 23).

TM256 Cyber security contains five blocks:  Block 1: Concepts of Cyber Security, Block 2: Systems Security, Block 3: Infrastructure, Host and Application Security, Block 4: Security operations and Incident Management, and Block 5: Fundamentals of Digital Forensics. TM359 covers topics such as building secure systems, testing, and ethical hacking certification.

To help tutors to prepare to upskill for TM256, the school has secured some funding to sponsor tutors to take a dedicated short course to give tutors the basic skills to start tutoring on TM256. During John’s summary, I noted the words “we hope to get a mixed of experienced tutors who are new to the subject, and tutors who are new to teaching but are familiar with the subject”.

Another qualification worth noting is the relatively recently introduced BSc (Honours) Computing with Electronic Engineering, which goes by the qualification code R62. This qualification contains two new electronics modules; T212, T312. Students are required to study maths in modules T193 and T194.

Other qualifications to note include Computing and IT diplomas and certificate, and a  degrees and a Top-up BSc (Honours) Computing and IT Practice.

The school also offers a Digital and Technology Solutions Professional Degree Apprenticeship. It’s important to note that there are different degree apprenticeship qualifications for different nations. I also made the following note: “apprentices tend to get worked quite hard; they have a full time job, and have a high study intensity”.

To complete the summary of undergraduate qualifications, John also mentioned the introduction of a new BSc (Honours) Data Science qualification which is lead by colleagues in the School of Mathematics and Statistics.

There were some updates to share about the postgraduate programme. The current version of the advanced networking MSc is currently on teach out, but a new version is being developed, reflecting changes to some of the external curriculum that forms an important part of that programme.

Finally, there’s also a new MSc in Cyber Security, which goes by the code F87. This qualification contains four key modules: M811 information security, M812 Digital forensics, M817 Systems security and T828 Network security.

A further note that I made, which I cannot emphasise enough is: “if you are interested in teaching on any of these modules, please speak with your staff tutor to find out more”.

Parallel session: Postgraduate and project tutors’ session

Being a tutor on TM470 The Computing and IT project module, I decided to go to a parallel session that was all about project modules. This session was facilitated by fellow tutor, Simon Dugmore.

I made a note of an important question: Why or where might students struggle? One answer was that students struggle to finding good literature and using it to build an argument to apply it to their work. Also, other students may find it difficult to reflect on their own approach to the project.

I noted the reflection that students can and do find some articles, but they might not do anything with them. Sometimes there are references to blog or technical articles, but they are not addressed in a critical way that adds real substance to a detailed and thorough literature review.

During this session, there was a short activity where we discussed the different types of resources student may use and the approaches that could be taken to help students understand how to best use of resources. I also noted down the point: explain what sort of resources you’re using, and why.

One of my own approaches is to show students the library website and choose some keywords after asking them about the modules they have studied, and the broad aims of their project. 

I confess that my notes are a bit sketchy at this point, but the session may have finished with a short discussion that may have tried to answer the question: how do we get them to reflect better? 

Parallel session: Level 2 tutors’ session – sharing best practice

In addition to being a TM470 tutor, I’m also a M250 Object-oriented Java programming tutor. This second parallel session was co-facilitated by Dave McIntyre, Karl Wilcox and Richard Mobbs

Karl facilitated the first section and asked the question: what are the similarities and differences between level 2 modules?

One notable difference is that M250 has quality printed materials, has had face-to-face tutorials whereas TT284 is presented entirely online. There are also differences between clusters (which are groups of tutors). I made the following note: “when teaching as a cluster, it’s much better for us, and much better for our students; that saves a lot of time, and makes best use of individual skills of tutors; it becomes a group effort.” There were different approaches, such as having two presenters for online tutorials, combining tutor forums, and using a cluster forum to share ideas and resources. TT284, unlike M250, requires a bit of writing, which can be a bit of a challenge for some students.

Next up was a discussion about how to get students to engage in tasks during online tutorials. One idea was to ask students to response to a whiteboard at the same time, giving anonymity. I made the note that it is important to carefully structure activities and that “the best tutorials were the ones that made me think; it’s the only time they meet other students and can do them together”. Tutors can also do screen sharing (I do this quite a lot), and to emphasise the importance of exams early on in a module

C&C Head of School Update

Arosha Bandara, current Computing and Communication head of school gave a short update. He began by presenting some numbers. The school is delivering teaching to 4700 students (200 of which are apprenticeship students), and this is supported by 50 central academics and 22 (now 24) regional academics or staff tutors. The school presents 47 modules, 6 apprenticeship schemes, and has 6 research groups. 

The aim of the school is to “to empower our students and wider society through life changing learning and research excellence”. In terms of research, it aims to “advance digital technologies in ways that enhance the human experience … by empowering - placing people at the centre, situate - to focus on the context as well as on the technology, and disrupt discipline borders to give fresh perspective and solutions.”

Arosha said something about the future direction of the school, which is to consolidate the current qualifications and look to further developments, such as AI, to explore what could be offered in this area.

Parallel Session: What might the AL contract mean in C&C? 

After a short break it was onto the final formal session of the day, which was facilitated by Steve Walker and Alexis Lansbury. The aim of this session was to share something about what the AL contract means for us all, to try to make it work for our advantage.

Key points of the contract include: it is a permanent fractional contract (as opposed to being tied to an individual module), the terms and conditions closer to other central university staff, and there is going to be a skills audit and workload allocation process to determine how tutor time can be best used and applied. Also, tutors become more connected to and allied to the school.

To begin to understand the implications of the new contract, the Computing and IT staff tutors set up a number of working groups: organisations, IT and data, supply and demand, and culture. 

An important question that we (as staff tutors, whilst working with tutors) is: how should things be organised ensure that everyone has the most appropriate opportunities that match their interests, skills and experience? A thought is that more regular meetings may be helpful. Geography might be also be useful way to organise everything, since a staff tutor may be able to understand the need for certain skills and resources across a certain area, and more easily collaborate and speak with fellow staff tutors.

Reflections

I always enjoy attending AL development conferences; there is always something I learn from them. I noted that 80 associate lecturer colleagues who were able to attend, which was a brilliant turn out. It was great to many colleagues.

I felt that this event was particularly welcome and useful, not only because it enabled us to share experience and teaching practice, but also it enabled us (as tutors) to meet with each other during a time when all the face-to-face AL development sessions had been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This isn’t the first online C&C AL development conference that we have held, and I’m sure it will not be the last.

Acknowledgements are given to Christine Gardner, who has been chairing the C&C AL development group, Sharon Dawes, and all the presenters who facilitated or co-facilitated the parallel sessions. Thanks are also extended to John Woodthorpe and Arosha Bandara who attended in their capacity as C&C director of teaching and head of school.

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