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M250 Object-oriented Java programming: update briefing

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Friday, 11 Jun 2021, 16:34

M250 Object-oriented Java programming (OU website) is changing. On 25 May I attended a short module briefing which summarised some of the changes to existing M250 tutors which will be introduced to the 21 J (October) presentation of the module.

One of the reasons for the need for a change is that earlier modules, namely TM111 and TM112 now have more programming content, and there is a need to ‘beef up’ M250 to help students when they move onto a sister module: M269. The new version of M250 will be more practical.

A good place to visit to find out about Computing and IT modules is through the Computing and IT subject siteWithin this site, there is a page that is all about M250 Object-oriented Java programming where students can access some sample exam questions, some M250 'prequel' materials, and complete a really helpful Self-assessment quiz.

It is expected that chapters 1 to 3 of the module materials (probably in ePub form) will be available as 'taster' materials for the module. There are also some links to library resources. M250 students can also access discounts from certain Oracle certification exams (but I don’t know to much about this). Students who are fully registered on the module will, of course, have access to an ePub version of all the materials.

Key changes

The key M250 learning outcomes remain unchanged. The new version of the module will be based around Objects First with Java by Barnes and Kölling (book website) which will be used with BlueJ version 4.1.3, which comes with JDK 8. Students will, of course, be sent a copy of this textbook. This set text will be supported by material known as chapter companions and extension materials for those students who want to study further. Unlike the previous version of the module, students will not be using bits of software, such as the object microworlds, or the OU workspace.

An important point I noted down regarding the set text is that students are not (immediately) expected to understand everything that they see. There will also be some more video materials to support students.

There will also be some style changes. The keyword ‘this’ is not going to be used as much, or emphasised, and the new version of the module will make use of some more standard terminology. There will be a couple of new things, such as try-with-resources (which I don’t yet know anything about), using the hashcode method, and doing a bit of computational modelling (which is covered in chapter 12).

Assessments

Just as before, the module will have 3 TMAs. TMA 1 will address the foundations of object-orientation, classes, objects, and introduce the ArrayList. TMA 2 will cover packages and import statements, collections and access modifiers. TMA 3 will cover the more advanced concepts of inheritance, polymorphism, interfaces, exceptions, and file input/output.

Students must gain an overall score of 40%, and must pass the examinable component with a score of at least 30%. There are no threshold requirements for the continually assessed part of the module (the TMA bit, which is known as OCAS).

The way that the marking will be done is going to be slightly different. There will be points for different categories, and tutors will be encouraged to highlight where mistakes have been made.

Reflections

Another thing I have heard is that the way that tutorials are being organised is also going to change. The number of clusters (groups of tutors) across the UK is being reduced, which means that there will be larger numbers of tutors working together to deliver tutorials. There is, I understand, a plan for groups of tutors (or individual tutors) to present a tutorial that focuses on certain chapters of the Objects First set text. I think this is a really good idea, and should increase the teaching and learning opportunities available for students.

One change that I am curious about is the way that the TMAs are assessed in the new version of the module. It strikes me that tutors will be given more freedom to assign marks for work done, whilst working within guidelines provided by the module team. The current M250 marking guidance is very prescriptive, but sometimes students do provide worthy (and interesting) answers that have not been thought of by the module team. In some ways, the new way of working will enable us to make more academic judgements about the work that has been submitted. Perhaps this change also represents an interesting opportunity for scholarship.

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AL development event: researching Computing and IT pedagogy

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 21 Nov 2016, 15:12

This blog has been prepared from a set of notes made during an AL development event on 18 June 2016 which took place at the Open University offices in Camden.

Opening remarks

The session kicked off with a ‘state of the union’ address. One of the big changes that associate lecturers were told about was the merger between two faculties: the Maths Computing and Technology faculty and the Science faculty, to create the STEM, Science Technology Engineering and Maths faculty. One of the reasons cited for this change is that the new faculty will have more independence in terms of how it is able to manage its structures and finances.

There, are, however some interesting differences. The science faculty doesn’t have any face to face tutorials for second and third level modules, whereas MCT does. Another point that I’ve noted down is that science makes more use of formative assessments. I’ve made some notes about what this means, but I won’t go into it here (since I might get some of the details wrong!)

In terms of Computing and IT, there are three new level three modules (which have now started), and two level one modules that are currently being written. These two modules occupy the space where TU100 My Digital Life used to sit. Key issues that needed to be addressed included: clear study overload for students, and issues regarding the transition between levels 1 and 2, especially when it comes to computer programming.

Retention and progression

The topic of retention and progression regularly comes up. The OU faces particular challenges regarding retention and progression due to its open access policy. In response to these challenges (amongst others, of course) the new faculty has created a new role called ‘head of student success’. I personally hold the view that associate lecturers and the student-tutor relationship is the single most important thing in terms of student success, and the new ‘head of student success’ needs to know something about what happens in the life of an associate lecturer to make any impact. Like I say, this is just an opinion (but one that is very valid).

I’ve also made a note that there was some mention of the subject of ‘learning analytics’. This is the study of ‘knowing how, when and where students are clicking’ when they visit the university websites. The idea is that clever algorithms might be able to tell members of the student support teams to give students a ring to have a chat about their studies before things get too difficult. Call me old fashioned: algorithms are all very well and have their uses but when it comes to education, people and personal knowledge matter a whole lot more (and I’ve spent much of my life studying computing and IT systems).

I’ve also made the following note (but I’m not quite sure what point I was trying to make): ‘students first’ means the importance of feedback and feedforward in response to exams, i.e. ‘why did I get a particular score?’ I think I meant: ‘one of the real things that can make a difference to students is the quality of feedback; personalised feedback can (obviously) guide effective learning’.

Group tuition policy session

The university has introduced something called the group tuition policy. There are some obvious issues with it, and I think it is (by and large) a pretty good idea. It has a couple of really simple principles, such as ‘for each face to face event, there should be an online alternative’ and ‘students can attend all learning events that are available in a cluster (of tutor groups). A cluster can be made up of anything between 4 and 10 tutor groups.

I’ve made a note of some really good points that were made during this session. One tutor asked, ‘will there be 100 people turning up when we have a really big cluster?’ Experience now tells us that OU Live tutorials don’t ever get that big, but they can become fairly big. I have heard that for some sessions over forty students have logged into a single learning event. (When I have run a national revision tutorial for a module that had over 320 students, I never had more than 30 students). An interesting point was about the use of microphones: students rarely use them.

One tutor asked the question: ‘will students be able to access learning events from all clusters?’ This isn’t something that I have managed to get a definitive answer about, but I have heard the new term ‘students from alien clusters’.

Another tutor asked about OU Live rooms. We now know that students will have access to up to three different OU Live rooms, and it will be down to the module tuition strategy to say more about how they should be used. In many cases there will be a national OU Live room which the module team could use to deliver lectures. There will be a cluster wide room which will be shared by all tutors who are working in a cluster. Finally, tutors will still have access to their own OU Live room, which can be used for additional support sessions, or tutorials that are for a whole tutor group.

I’ve made a note that there was some discussion about how timetables were set. My own approach has been to use a shared wiki document that is hosted on the university virtual learning environment. The dates and times on the wiki are then transferred to a booking spreadsheet which is passed onto AL services. Something else I’ve set us is a ‘cluster forum’, which is used to communicate will all tutors who are a part of a cluster.

The final discussions were about the learning event management system. The LEM, as it is known, is used to allow students to book onto learning events. One of the features of the LEM is that it will allow tutors to send messages to all the students who have registered for learning events (perhaps to send them some information that could be useful before a tutorial).

Researching Computing and IT Pedagogy

This afternoon session was designed to highlight that the university is currently funding STEM pedagogy through its eSTEeM research project, and to emphasise its importance to tutors. A key point is that tutors are important, since they are those that are closest to students.
One note I made was: ‘what do our students find most difficult?’ One answer is writing, and one module that was singled out was T215. A point was that perhaps there could be more teaching by example: students could be given an example of a good essay and a poorly written essay to show how they were different. 

Another interesting point was: when should the subject of writing (in terms of essay and TMA writing) be introduced to students? One thought was: maybe before the start of first level modules? There is something called a programming bootcamp (Learning Innovation website) that helps students to get to grips with the ideas of computer programming; perhaps there might be a writing bootcamp? Another important issue is the importance of basic numeracy, which is something that the first level Computing and IT modules try to address.

The final note I made was about other resources that tutors could draw upon to help students. The university has its Skills for Study website, resources from the library website and the developing good academic practice website which covers issues such as plagiarism and referencing.

AL contract negotiations update

The final part of the event was about potential changes to the associate lecturer teaching contract. The university and the union have been negotiating the terms for a new contract which should, hopefully, offer associate lecturers more stability and security. Rather than being contracted to a particular module which has a certain life tutors will be given a fractional post where they may be required to undertake a range of other duties, such as monitoring, moderating forums, exam marking, critical reading, and so on. This change in the contract will represent, in my opinion, a fundamental change in how the university operates.

I understand that there has been a university project that has been looking at how to plan and organise workload for these fractional posts. This said, at the time of writing, negotiations are currently stalled due to issues that are connected with the implementation of the group tuition policy.

Final remarks

A lot was covered in quite a short period of time. From my perspective, one of the key outcomes was a renewed sense that we need to collectively conduct some research into why students don’t attend tutorials when they are offered. The more students who attend tutorials (or learning events), the more fun, dynamic and interesting the tutorials will become. As soon as I’ve finished my current pedagogy project (which is about how best to observe teaching and learning practice), the question of tutorial attendance is something that I’m definitely going to pursue, with help from tutors (of course). We need this important piece of research to get more of an insight into issues that surround retention and progression.

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