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Christopher Douce

TM470: Considering planning

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When considering planning, I’m minded of a familiar glib phrase: “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. When it comes to TM470, planning is really important. Effective project planning is the backbone which holds up your project. Also, a big bit of learning that can come from TM470 is learning about planning, and how to maintain a project plan during the course of a project.

Importantly, planning is mentioned very clearly within the EMA learning outcomes, for example:

LO9. Plan and organise your project work appropriately, and keep systematic records of plans, progress and outcomes.

To get a distinction for this criterion, you must provide evidence that you have: “clearly planned and accurately managed progress in relation to the original plan” and that you understand “what has gone well and what has not gone to plan.”

In the EMA summary, it is suggested that you should provide evidence of your ability to: “plan and organise your project work appropriately, and keep systematic records of plans, progress and outcomes”.

This leads us to some questions: what kind of records do we need to provide, and how do we go about creating a plan?

To begin with, there’s a lot of practical advice within the ‘planning and organising a project’ module resource, which offers a lot of helpful advice and some helpful background information. A recommendation is to get a printout of this.

Your first TMA emphasises planning. This TMA assessment guide suggests that your first assessment should have three main sections: “preparing for and planning your project; the project work; reviewing and reflecting upon your planning and preparation, and project work”. In other words: what you are doing to do, what you have done, and what points you have to share about what you have done.

This is expanded in one of the tables that can be found within the TMA 1 guidance, which offers the following points which relate to planning: 

  • Outline of the major tasks and subtasks within the project at an appropriate level of detail to enable your tutor to assess the viability of your project.
  • Choice and justification of a lifecycle model for its management. Within the context of the chosen lifecycle model, a schedule for completing the tasks and subtasks.
  • An outline of the resources and skills needed and the methods you are considering using, taking into account the risks and how these will be minimised.

What to provide

Your first TMA (as well as your EMA), you need to provide the following:

Choice of lifecycle model: you need to justify what overall project management approach you have chosen. There is a useful resource about this in the module materials. Different projects will necessitate the choice of different models. Choose a model that works for you and your project, and justify your choice. A practical suggestion is to provide a table. Say something about each of the different modules, saying why a particular approach either is or isn’t appropriate for your project.

Table of tasks: Give your tutor a very high level of the things you’re going to do as a part of your project. You could think of these in terms of project phases. Keep it high level. Again, use a table. Give each task a name, a potential start date and end date, and a brief description, providing no more than a sentence. Your choice of project model will help you to form your task table. Your table s will help your tutor (and your examiner) to get a good idea about what you’re going to do to solve your problem. 

Table of resources: The resources you use within your project are important. Although the primary resource is yourself, you may need to get other people involved in your project. If you’re doing an interaction design project, you might need some help with the evaluation of your designs. If you can’t get hold of ‘ideal’ users, you can also use proxy users (such as friends or family members); users who are pretending to be your target users. You also might need to use software tools, or maybe even some cloud computing resources. Like with the tasks, do share everything in a table. Try to describe everything as succinctly as possible.

Gantt chart: Gantt charts are really useful tools. When you have created your task table, have a go to great a Gantt chart for your project. Aim to have two Gantt charts. Create one at the very start of your project, make a copy of it and save it somewhere. When you start work on your project, maintain a Gantt chart to reflect progress on your project. Submit a copy of your chart for your first TMA. When you get to your EMA, submit both your first Gantt, and the one that you have maintained throughout your project. By looking at the one that you had at the start, and one that you had at the end, you will be able to see the difference between what you thought would happen, and what actually happened.

On the subject of Gantt charts, you can create them in different ways. If you are working on a company, you might be able to use of products such as Microsoft Project to help you to plan your project and to create a Gantt chart. Another approach is to make use of an number of Gantt chart templates for Microsoft Excel.

What to do

There is some good guidance about planning within the module materials. In terms of creating a Gantt chart, I recommend that you do, and take account of the following:

  • Record all your TMA cut off dates as milestones. If you’re studying multiple modules at the same time, do put these in too.
  • Do make a note of time that you need to allocate to writing and submitting both your TMAs and your project report (your EMA).
  • Make a note of when you’re going to be on holiday and put these dates on your chart.
  • Make a note of any other non-working time. For example, if there are any family or work responsibilities that need to be attended to, make sure you make a note of them.
  • Begin to record high level tasks, or project phases that match your choice of project model.
  • Within those phases, attempt to break them down to one or more subtasks.
  • Consider the risks that might apply to your project. (There will a blog post about TM470 and project risks. When you get to your EMA, project planning and project risks should go into the same section).

Some accompanying thoughts are: 

  • Do expect to change your plan during the course of your project.
  • Don’t prioritise your plan over your project. If you find yourself spending loads of time on the plan, you might need a simpler plan, or find another way to plan, or choose a different tool.

Some important tip that I share with all project students are:

  • Create a project log. This could be something as simple as a Word document, which has dates for headings. Use this to make notes of what you’ve done. This could only be a few sentences; it doesn’t have to be anything very detailed. You can also use your log to make a note of what you have learnt.
  • Email your tutor regularly, ideally every two weeks, just to keep them informed of what you’re doing. You might think about emailing your tutor sections of your log.
  • When you compile your EMA, you can put a copy of your project log, or emails, or both into an appendix. Doing so relates to learning outcomes LO5 and LO6, where to get a distinction, you need to provide evidence of having “worked under own supervision, communicating regularly and accurately in respect of progress” and “sought guidance when needed, but offered own ideas when doing so”, and “has clearly recognised new skills and knowledge”.

Reflections

When you get to the end of your project and you have to write the reflection section (which accounts for 20% of the overall mark) if you have made a good plan, and have your original plan, you will be able to say something about what went well, what didn’t go well, and what you have learnt about running a project. Of course, you should also be saying something about what technical skills you have further developed too. Although project planning isn’t very exciting, it is pretty important, and it is also important to get on top of it early. One of the jobs of your tutor is to offer you some practical advice about how your plan might be further developed or improved.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the TM470 project team who have prepared some very helpful materials on choosing a project model and carrying out a project planning.

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Christopher Douce

TM470: Tips from a tutor

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At the start of every presentation of TM470 I run a couple of introductory tutorials. During these tutorials, I try to conclude with a set of tips. These are things to do, and things to always bear in mind whilst studying. The tips that follow relate to the different aspects of the module. In this blog I have taken the liberty of adding one more point that relate to the writing of the project report. (On this point, do refer to earlier blogs that relate to writing and TM470, and how to structure your final project report).

Here are my (personal) tips:

Choose a project that allows you to show off your skills (and have fun): The project module is all about showing off. It should be used to show off what you have learnt, what skills you have, and what you can do. It is used to show off your technical skills, project planning skills and writing skills (which is an important graduate skill).

Think about the type of project it is: there are three types of project – research projects (you study something), development projects (you create something), and evaluation projects (you evaluate something). Depending on what you have chosen, your project might have elements of all three. Identify which bit you might be doing, and when you might be doing it.

Choose (and justify) appropriate lifecycle model: different types of project need to be managed and run in different ways. Familiarise yourself with the different lifecycle modules that are presented within the module materials and ask yourself why you need to choose one approach over another.

Spend time creating a project plan (and share a plan in each TMA): demonstrating your planning skills is a really important part of the project module. Not only should you identify a list of key tasks that you may need to complete, but you should also create a Gantt chart. A practical recommendation is: create a Gantt chart when you start the project, and take a copy of it. As you progress throughout your project, make regular updates. When you get to the end, compare your first Gantt chart with your current Gantt chart. Write about what this tells you about either yourself or your project planning. Add these thoughts to the reflection section of your EMA.

Take time to identify risks: what are they? Risk management is important. You need to take account of these within your plan, and consider how you may need to mitigate against them. Different projects will present different risks. Consider both your own role within the project, and the types of resources that you need to complete your project.

Always consider about ethics within the project: consider ethics from different perspectives – the ethics of involving people within your project, and also the ethical implications of how the outcomes of your project might impact on others and wider society.

Start your reading and researching (use the library): make good use of the university library. A part of your student fees always goes towards it, and it is a phenomenal resource. Do use it to find academic articles that help you to answer some of the problems you need to solve during your project. You can also use it to find textbooks to help to solve technical problems.

Create a project log, and send me updates every week: a project log can help you to reflect on what you have done during the course of your project. This can be especially useful when you write everything up. Sending an update email every two weeks to your tutor can also play the role of a log. Any emails that you send can also be saved as an appendix, to show an examiner that you have maintained regular contact with your tutor.

Take time to review the marking grids: in other words, make sure you understand what the TMA and EMA learning outcomes are. Once you understand these and know what they are, you can almost mark yourself. Use these grids to understand what evidence you need to provide in your assessments, and your final project report.

Pay attention to how your project report is written: when projects are assessed, the project is evaluated through what is shared in your project report. This means that your writing is important. Do your best to make your report as interesting as it can be. Make sure that it has a strong (and clear) narrative in terms of what you have done, what you have learnt, and what you have achieved. As well as your outputs and outcomes, make sure you tell the examiner how you have approached your planning. Clear writing will help your examiner identify evidence to show how you have gained the module learning outcomes.

Reflections

Although these are my personal tips, students should always refer to the module materials in the first instance. Other tutors may we have different (although hopefully) similar opinions. If you’re unsure about what you need to do, or how to present evidence within a TMA or your project report, please do seek advice from your tutor, or by making a post to the module forums.

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Christopher Douce

TM470: Maintaining motivation

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During a group tutorial I asked students how they kept motivated. With their permission, what follows is a summary of the hints and tips they shared with each other. Their points are accompanied by some of my own thoughts:

Have a chat with your tutor: your project tutor is there to help. Do find the time to speak with them. It is important they learn more about your project idea, since then they can help and offer advice.

Speak to people: if one exists for your module, consider joining a WhatsApp group, or other online groups, since speaking to other students can be really useful. One thing to bear in mind is that these informal spaces are, of course, not monitored or regulated by the university, which means that students need to take care when participating in these spaces. Students do, however, still have to abide by student conduct policies.

Tell your managers: if you are completing your project module as a part of an apprenticeship, or there is a connection between your project and your workplace, make sure you tell your managers all about it. Get them involved, and consider how best to keep the informed about your progress, and consider what kind of help they might be able to offer.

Remember where you are in your studies: when you’re doing a project module, you’re nearly at the end of everything, and it’s important to remember this. Your project module is the pinnacle of your studies. Look back at how far you’re come, and look forward to see how far you have to go. This helps to put things into perspective.

Remember why you’re doing this: remind yourself of what you want to achieve by carrying out all your studies. It might be a better job, a change of career, or maybe a route into postgraduate studies. Reminding yourself on the big picture, and what you want to achieve, can help you to regain your motivation.

Little rewards: make sure you make time to celebrate your achievements, whatever these might be. They might be completing a plan, finding something out about an aspect of your project, revising bits of module materials, or submitting a TMA. Make sure you build in time to enjoy life.

Manage your time: although this isn’t necessarily directly about motivation, it is important to make sure you find a way to manage your time. When you have a plan, or a study habit, this will help you to internalise that you’re able to complete your project.

Break things down: there’s this expression that goes ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ The answer is: in little pieces. The same applies to your project. You should always aim to break your project into smaller chucks to make sure you can achieve the bigger goal.

Take regular breaks: stepping away from your project work can be really helpful. If you spend a lot of time working on a problem or a task, you might begin to make mistakes, and the quality of your work might go down. Consider going for a walk, completing a mindless chore that needs to be done, or watch some nonsense on television: whatever works best for you.

Understand what study or work habits work best: some of us are morning people, whereas others work best late at night. Understand what works for you, and apply this to your project work. This will make things easier.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the TM(XY)470 students who attended our introductory tutorials. Good luck with your projects!

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Christopher Douce

TM470 Learning Outcomes

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TM470 is the Open University’s Computing and IT project module. It is what is called a capstone module, which is studied towards the end of the Q62 Computing and IT BSc qualification. It is an important element, since it is linked to the degree being recognised by the British Computer Society (BCS)

If you study this this module, you are required to carry out a substantial project which demonstrates your learning that has taken place on earlier modules. It is also used to develop your project management skills. Given the final output from the module is a project report TM470 also helps to develop your writing skills.

Like many other modules, TM470 is assessed through a series of learning outcomes. To pass the module, you must demonstrate that you have met these outcomes. This means that you need to provide sufficient evidence in your project report to ensure that the examiner can see that you meet all the criteria that are embodied within those outcomes.

A fellow tutor has described TM470 as a bit like a very long assignment (or end of module assessment). Every tutor marked assessment (TMA) is designed to help you to move towards the writing of your end of module assessment. As you study the module, it is recommended that you review the learning outcomes of each TMAs. Different TMAs will be assessing different learning outcomes. In turn, this will take you to the EMA, and its learning outcomes.

What follows is a brief summary (and my own interpretation) of the learning outcomes that relate to the module EMA, which is the same thing as the project report. A full summary of the learning outcomes and the accompanying assessment criteria is, of course, available through the module website.

Before looking at all the outcomes, I should note that these are my own notes, and my own opinions, rather than that of the module team. Always refer to the module team materials for official guidance.

Interpreting the TM470 Learning outcomes

LO1: Demonstrate your understanding of technical concepts relevant to your project

I have paraphrased this learning outcome from the original version: demonstrate and apply a systematic understanding of the fundamental technical concepts and principles relevant to your project. In other words: you need to do stuff to show what you have learnt from your earlier studies. There is an implicit link between this learning outcome, and learning outcome 11.

LO2: Identify and refine the goals and content of your project

This is all about the aims of your project. Does it solve a specific and easily defined problem that can be described in a few concise sentences? A quick check is: does it make sense if you explain your project idea to someone who doesn’t know what you have been studying? Does it solve a real need? Do refer to the module guidance about what constitutes a good project aim and idea.

LO3: Skills, resources and activities

The full outcome is: identify, list and justify the resources, skills and activities needed to carry out the project successfully. Another part of this outcome is: identify and address any associated risks. If there evidence of each of these elements? Do you consider what resources you need, such as software, or people? Also, how about risks? Is there evidence of how you have considered risks? Are these risks sensible?

LO4: Gather, analyse and evaluate relevant information

In my eyes, this theme cross cuts a couple of sections. Is there evidence of your reading in your report, by way of a literature review section? Also, when it comes to make decisions about what to do with a potential design, have you documented what you think is important. In other words, is there enough information that enables the reader of your project report to understand the story of what was done within your project?

LO5: Critically review how you have tackled the project

This outcome is one of the two outcomes that is all about reflection. If you don’t get everything working as you had hoped, or things didn’t go to plan, don’t worry. Instead, do tell the examiner about it. Importantly, tell them why you thought it didn’t go well, and what you have learnt from it. Also, do assess whether you felt your original plans were appropriate. During the planning of your project, thinking about risks is important. Did you go overboard on your risk planning?

LO6: Make effective use of a variety of information sources

This outcome is linked to LO4, but it is more about your reading, and how what you have read has informed what you have done. You also need to demonstrate that you have drawn on sources that have academic credibility. Whilst blog posts (such as this one) can be useful, they don’t hold as much weight as books or formal articles. An element of the project report is to demonstrate not only your practical skills, but also your academic skills. In turn, you need to make sure you reference everything clearly. 

LO7: Communicate clearly

The full title of this outcome is: communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions clearly. In other words, you must demonstrate that you’re able to write a well written report that describes what you’ve done. A really useful bit of advice I was once offered was: “make sure what you write is as interesting as it can be”. Academic writing, whilst formal, doesn’t have to be boring. Put a bit of yourself into your writing, especially when it comes to the reflection section.

LO8: Learn independently and reflect on what has been done

This outcome is all about reflection. When looking back across your project, it is okay to get a bit more personal. This outcome is all about saying what you felt went well and what went badly, what you have learnt, and whether there were any surprises. Also, do you now know something new about yourself and how you work, than you did before?

LO9: Plan and organise your project work

The full outcome is: plan and organise your project work appropriately, and keep systematic records of plans, progress and outcomes. This outcome is linked to learning outcome 3, which is about resources, activities and risks. In your report, is there evidence of creating a plan? A practical tip is to great a Gantt chart, but break it down into a fair amount of detail. This said, don’t make it too detailed, as otherwise you’ll spend too much time updating your plan and not doing any project work! A further practical tip is: do begin a project log, and put this as an appendix. This will help you when it comes to the learning outcomes that are all about reflection.

LO10: Ethics, equality and diversity

A more detailed heading for this outcome is: identify and address the legal, social, ethical and professional issues (LSEPIs) and the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) concerns. Since computing systems can have real impact within society, and to individuals, it is important to consider what these are. There should be a section within your report that addresses this, and concerns about ethics should inform what you do, and how you approach the different stakeholders.

LO11: Analyse a practical problem and devise and implement a solution

The full learning outcome is: Analyse a practical problem and devise and implement a solution, which should be within the area of your chosen specialist route, if applicable, building on, and extending, the knowledge and skills developed throughout your earlier OU studies and experience. Put another way, you should demonstrate what you already know, what you have learnt, along with what skills you have gained from earlier study, and what skills you have developed during the period of the project. You should do all this through your project report. 

Summary

TM470 is very different to OU modules that teach a particular topic, since so much of the decision making about what you do, and what you write about is up to you. The module begins to make sense if you think in terms of producing ‘something’ (a project report) that demonstrates your skills and abilities. I often tell students that TM470 is all about showing off your skills and abilities, i.e. showing off to the examiners what you have learnt, and what you can do. The module learning outcomes help you to understand what you need to focus on to show off in the best possible way.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the TM470 module team, and the follow tutors that I work with.

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Christopher Douce

TM470 Literature review: further tips

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 19 Dec 2023, 18:20

This blog offers some more practical tips on completing the TM470 literature review section. In some ways, it follows on from an earlier blog on the same subject.

Three points are shared. The first is some techniques about how to think about and consider papers. The second presents some useful resources about academic writing. The third offers some suggestions about how to structure your literature review section.

The literature review section of your project report does a number of things. It shared with the reader something about your reading. In doing this, it helps the reader to understand what your project is all about, and what it relates to. It also primes the reader for some of the topics that will feature within the body of your report. If you use module materials, books, articles, or software, they should be referenced within the literature review section. The reader shouldn’t be surprised, and think: “where did that come from?”

If your project report is all about showing off what you are able to do, the literature review section is all about showing of what you know.

PROMPT

The PROMPT framework that can be useful when preparing a literature review. It is introduced in an online resource called Being Digital.

PROMPT is an abbreviation for: Presentation, Relevance, Objectivity, Method, Provenance, and Timeliness. It offers a structured method that can be used to evaluate any information that you find online. What follows is an edited summary of the key elements of the framework, which have been drawn from a PROMPT Checklist (PDF)

Presentation: Is the information presented and communicated clearly? Consider the language, layout and structure of the resource that you’re evaluating. Does it look ‘academic’?

Relevance: Is the article relevant to the topic you are researching? Look at the introduction, abstract or overview to find out what it is mainly about. When reading an article, to get a quick feel for it, you might also want to have a read of the concluding paragraphs. Do these relate to the aims of your project?

Objectivity: Is the article biased, or motivated by a particular agenda? Is the language emotive? Are there hidden, vested interests? In some articles, there is a section which might highlight any potential conflicts of interest, or how it is funded. This criteria is, of course, link to relevant, and to the thought of ‘does it look right?’

Method: For research articles, ask yourself whether it is clear how the data was collected. Given what you know of both the paper and the topic, were the methods appropriate and can you trust it? When evaluating a method, do have a look out for research questions. Do they match?

Provenance: Is it clear where the information has come from? Can you identify who the authors are, and who they work for? Can they be considered to be trustworthy?

Timeliness: Articles can lose their relevance. Important questions to ask are: how up to date is the material? Is it clear when it was written? Also, does the date of writing meet your requirements, or would it be obsolete? This is particularly important with fast moving areas, such as Computing and IT.

Another approach: the wheel

Ideally, the literature review chapter should be a story about your reading, sitting within a bigger story, which is your whole project. There are different ways you can present your findings: you can present it in terms of chronology (the order in which you read articles and papers), or you can structure it thematically. 

For TM470 where there is a limited word count, the thematic approach can work really well. It gives you an opportunity to highlight the connections to module materials, and then to share evidence of further reading, allowing you to show how you have ‘dug deeper’ into the subject.

A more sophisticated approach to discussing and presenting the materials that you gather during a review is expressed in the ‘the wheel approach to literatures’ blog. It adopts a model known as: And, But, Therefore.

The Wheel goes beyond what is required for TM470. You should aim at highlighting what you consider to be important, and why. The Wheel may well be helpful for students going onto postgraduate study, or students from disciplines where writing takes centre stage. The point amongst all this is: writing and structuring complex and detailed documents is a graduate skill, irrespective of what you study.

Types of resource

When working on a project that involves creating a solution to a problem, there is often a temptation to use blogs, reports or articles found on the internet. These types of articles are known as ‘grey literature’, which means they are not formally published in the way that books or academic articles are. This means they are subject to a lower level of scrutiny. When working with grey literature, a good question to ask is: is there another, more formal source? If the answers is ‘yes’, then please refer to the more formal source. By doing this, you acknowledge the articles that are contributing to academic discussions and debates that relate to a particular topic.

A good example of a resource that is really useful is, of course, Wikipedia. A reference should be something that is static and does not change over time. Since Wikipedia pages can easily change, a recommendation is to avoid using them as formal references. Instead, use them as a way to find more formal references. Look at what Wikipedia references, and then go and find those articles in the OU library.

Referencing

If something exists in the world, it can be referenced.

When writing a formal report, the most common type of references will be, of course, books and articles. You should also, of course, include clear references to module resources. Arts students can reference physical artifacts, photographs and paintings. Students studying computing and IT can, of course, reference software and technical standards.

To find out how to reference anything, visit the CiteThemRight website. The OU makes use of the Harvard referencing style, which takes the form: Author, Initial (year) Title of item, where it was published, and any page numbers (if appropriate). 

Academic writing

Every part of your TM470 project report should be written in an academic style. More information about what this means can be found by visiting the following article: Academic writing in TM470

A disclaimer: this is guidance from a TM470 tutor, rather than from a member of the module team. Always refer to the official module team guidance to really appreciate what they are looking for.

Further guidance about writing can be found in the Core Skills section of the Study Skills website and the Open Learn Write it right: seven common writing resource.

Reflections

The TM470 project module is all about showing off in a number of different ways: it is there to show off your ability to pick a sensible project idea, it is there to show off your technical skills, and it is there to show off how you go about planning a non-trivial project, and it is there is show of both your reading and your writing skills. The literature review section is a really important part of a TM470 project report, but it is very often a part of the report that isn’t done as well as it could be. It is important because it sets the scene. It tells the examiner what you know.

Here are my tips: 

  1. In your literature review, mention earlier module resources, and dig a little further.
  2. Unless you’re referring to software, do your best to use and refer to academic resources.
  3. Make sure that you spend quality time looking in the OU library and make notes about what you’ve been looking at. Use PROMPT to interrogate (or figure out) what you’re looking at.
  4. If you reference something in the literature review section, it should ideally be used or applied in the body of your report in some way or another.
  5. When you write everything up, structure your literature review in terms of themes.
  6. It is all about showing off. Because this is important do make what you write as clearly possible.

On this final point, I recently heard the following bit of advice from a fellow tutor, which was shared on an OU forum: “why choose a complicated word when a shorter word would work”. The easier your report is to read, the more secure the examiner will be in making their decisions, and awarding marks.

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Christopher Douce

Sharing source code in a TM470 project report

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Saturday, 15 Jul 2023, 11:38

TM470 projects can take many different forms. 

Some might be design projects, some might be research projects, and some might be development projects. One of the most important points that all students should bear in mind is that there is a need to share evidence of project activity and learning that takes place.

Evidence is shared only through the project report. If your project is all about software development, you are not required to upload software to a GitHub repository, or to provide examiners with a working version of anything you may have designed. You should, however, provide evidence of software development having been carried out, and must provide evidence of critical thinking you have applied. In other words, you should write a technical story that describes how your software was created. Although every project is different, your report should share the story of requirements discovery or specification, design, development, evaluation, and testing. The number of times you carry out an evaluation cycle is, of course, completely up to you.

I am sometimes asked a question, which is: how should I share code through my EMA report?

A case study approach

You don’t need to share all your code. 

You should share your code in two ways: in the body of the report, and in an appendix.

For the body of your report, choose bits of code that best demonstrates your technical skills and help to demonstrate a technical story of what you have done, and how you have done it. You should also show how you have drawn upon modules you have previously studied.

Think about the body of your report as a showcase, where you share a series of mini case studies which demonstrate your skills, abilities, and learning. Providing snippets of code in the body of your report that highlight show the important and difficult problems that you have had to resolve during the course of your project. In the body, you can then provide a pointer to one or more appendices, where you can provide more code, which the examiner can look at.

A simple rule of thumb is: provide snippets that show your work and your learning in the body of your report, and provide bigger sections of code as a section in an appendix.

Some projects might require the development of an algorithm, so showcasing its development will be a really important part of the technical story of your project. In this example, you might want to refer to M269 Algorithms, data structures and computability, or another module.

If your project has user interfaces that is coded up in a language, such as HTML, you might want to include fragments of these, and refer to modules such as TM352 Web, mobile and cloud technologies and TM356 Interaction design and the user experience.

You should also refer to texts, such as set texts, module materials, or any other resources that you have mentioned in your literature review section.

Presentation

In the body of your report, a practical approach is to share small sections of your code using tables. By using this approach, you can refer to your code using a table number, when you discuss how you created your software.

A suggestion is to present your code a font, such as Courier New, to clearly distinguish between what is code, and what is discussion. To make sure you don’t use too many pages in your project report, it is okay to make your code a bit smaller. From my tutor perspective, 8 point Courier New is a good choice. 

A fellow tutor shared a particular opinion about code presentation that has stuck with me, which was: try to avoid presenting code on a black background. The reason for this is pretty simple: if bits of your report are printed (which I don't think is likely to happen), it would use black ink or toner than is necessary. Another argument is that it might make the code harder to read on some devices.

For bigger chunks of code, you should use one or more appendices. A practical suggestion is to use one appendix for the code, dividing it up into subsections if you need to, since this way everything is in one place. You might want to use an appendix to share an entire file, or perhaps show how all your earlier code fragments look when they are combined together. You should use a font like Courier New to present your code, but you don’t need to present your code in a table, since you can refer to it with an appendix or a reference number.

Pro-tips: cross referencing and Word headings

The bigger a Word document becomes, the harder it becomes to maintain, especially if you’re starting to add in a lot of sections. To make things easier, I have the following recommendations:

  • Make use of the Word in built headings; this enables you to easily create a table of contents using a feature of Word. Also, get Word to number each section for you, since this way you don’t have to renumber everything is you need to add a new section.
  • Use the Word document navigator view to get an overview of your document.
  • Have up to 3 levels of headings, i.e. 1.2.2; too many levels will make things confusing.
  • If you add tables and figures, get Word to number them for you.
  • If you refer to a table or a figure, do so using the Word cross reference feature, since that way if you add more tables, you won’t need to mess with editing table numbers.

The final point is: if all this is a bit much, do what you need to do to get your report written. Sometimes it is best to decide to get things done. TM470 is all about OU study and running a project, rather than making a perfect Word document.

Edited 15/7/23, adding a further bit guidance about the formatting of code.

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Christopher Douce

Considering LSEPI

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 28 Jun 2023, 09:02

In TM470 LSEPI is an abbreviation for Legal Social Ethical and Professional Issues. A good TM470 project report should clearly address these issues to show the examiner that you have thought about how these issues have impacted on your project, and what you have done to take these into account.

LSEP issues are increasingly important in computing due to the increasing impact that computing and IT has within society. When speaking with students I often a recent example: the Volkswagen emissions scandal. In this case, there are clear environmental impacts and legal implications. It is also clear that both the engineers and leaders have to make ethical decisions.

In TM470, LSEP issues are assessed through the following learning outcome: “LO10. Identify and address the legal, social, ethical and professional issues (LSEPIs) and the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) concerns that may arise during the development and use of computing and IT systems.” In the marking of the EMA, this learning outcome is assessed with LO2, which is all about the aims and goals of your project.  When just looking at the number of learning outcomes, and the marks available, the LSEPI section could account for 10 marks.

To gain a top score for this learning outcome a student: “has comprehensively identified the relevant LSEPIs and EDI concerns arising during development and use and modified their project work to take these into account and behaved professionally in all aspects of their project work”. EDI being an abbreviation for equality, diversity and inclusion.

Given the importance of both LSEP and EDI, a suggestion is to include it as a top level section in your report, just before the literature review section. The justification for this is that if you identify some issues that need to be explored in greater depth, you can then go onto provide evidence of your reading.

Module materials

At the time of writing, it takes a bit of digging to find two documents that relate to both LSEP and EDI issues. From the module website, click on the Resources heading, and then click on the Study materials section.

The LSEP document contains the following key headings: working with stakeholders, working with human participants, and asking the right questions. Do review the materials that are presented under these headings and review Appendix A Guidelines for conducting research with human participants. Related to these are two template documents: a sample consent form, and a participant information sheet.

Informed consent is the process through which researchers share the aims and purpose of their research with participants, and gain their approval that they are happy to participate in a study. The accompanying information sheet is designed to offer further information under a set of familiar headings.

When working with participants, I always remember two points. The first is that participants are at liberty to leave a study at any point. The second point is related: the participants are always more important than the research that is being carried out.

The equality, diversity and inclusion section addresses “why equality, diversity and inclusion are relevant to computing and IT professionals”, introduces the concept of protected characteristics, and “unconscious bias is and how it might affect your practice as a computing and IT professional” and what mitigations might be adopted (TM470 module materials).

EDI relates to people, and differences between people, irrespective of whether they are perceived or due to physical, cognitive or sensory impairments. Since Computing and IT products are, ultimately, used by people, it is necessary to consider EDI issues. If you design an app or a website, your product should be accessible to the widest possible group of users. The motivations for doing this are twofold: firstly, there is a legal obligation to ensure that products and systems are accessible under the Equality Act, and secondly, all users are potential customers. If a product isn’t accessible or perceived negatively, a consumer might choose another service that has a more accessible, usable, or appealing interface.

Looking at this issue from a slightly different perspective, if your project uses artificial intelligence or machine learning, it is necessary to question the extent to which biases might exist within either data that informs your project, and the extent to which bias might be potentially reinforced, or even magnified.

Questions to ask

As highlighted earlier, the LSEP materials contains a section that has the title: asking the right questions. 

Go through each of these questions in turn. 

When working through these questions, do think about the stakeholders who are involved with your project. A stakeholder can be thought of anyone who is affected by your project, either directly or indirectly. Ask yourself questions about what data might need to be held and collected, and what bits of legislation might play and impact if you were ever to deploy your project. The Equality Act was mentioned above. You might want to also consider data protection and computer misuse legislation.

If your project is a research report it is important to ask: what might be the impact of my report? If something is discovered by the report, what might be the impact of disclosing the results, or not disclosing the results? The point here is that it is important to go further than just the immediate project, but also to consider wider and broader impacts.

Differences between student projects and university projects

Before university staff can carry out research that involved human participants, they must submit project proposals through a formal ethics panel. The aim of this panel is to make sure that researchers have carefully considered everything, and any potential risks to all participants (and to the university) have been mitigated.

Unlike official university projects, undergraduate and postgraduate projects are not required to go through such a rigorous process. Rather than having an ethics panel and a lot of electronic paperwork to complete, students should think of their tutor or project supervisor as a mini ethics panel.

Interacting with your tutor whilst considering your LSEP and EDI issues should be thought of as a useful and necessary part of your project. Your tutor will be able to offer some thoughts about what needs to be considered. Plus, interactions with your tutor or supervisor can be documented in an appendix of your final reports.

Further resources

A lot of good resources about ethics are available, and some of these resources are mentioned in the module materials. Here are a collection of links that might be useful:

For those that find this subject really interesting, there is a whole suggested curriculum about Society, Ethics and Professionalism on the ACM website.

Going through the ethics bit of TM470 gives you a taste of what university researchers have to go through when they plan and design studies that involve human participants. More information about what goes on behind the scenes at the OU is presented through Ethics support for projects: Which studies need review, by whom and why? (OU blog)

Reflections

I find ethics a fascinating subject. In computing it comes into play more than you might initially expect since computing touches on so many different areas of human activity. Rather than being a subject that was once on the periphery of the discipline, I now see it as a topic that has moved to the centre. It is an important and necessary part of becoming a computing professional.

It is also interesting to reflect on how ethics has developed since I was a graduate student. There is now a lot more that has to be done, but this isn’t a bad thing. Additional scrutiny along the way helps researchers to carry out better research. For TM470 students, my key bit of advice is: speak with your tutor; they are your own personal ethics panel.

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Christopher Douce

TM470 Project report structure

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 28 Jun 2023, 09:03

When studying TM470, students are required to design, plan and carry out a short project that will enable them to show off the skills and knowledge that they have gained from their earlier level 3 students. To pass this module, students have to submit a detailed project report, which can also be thought of as a dissertation.

Since student projects can take many different forms, the TM470 module materials offer general guidance that need to be interpreted by students. A suggested report structure might work well for one type of project, but not for another. Students might decide on a research project (looking into a very specific problem in a lot of detail), an evaluation project (comparing one product, tool, system or approach to another), or an implementation project (choosing to design and implement code that solves a well-defined problem).

In absence of some very specific guidance about how to structure of project report, this blog post offers a summary of some of the guidance that I have offered (and continue to offer) during some of my TM470 EMA preparation tutorials. After my tutorials, I also share a link to this blog post to the TM470 students that I am supporting.

I must offer a disclaimer: this guidance will not fit all projects. Students must decide about whether the below suggested structure it is appropriate for their own project. Also, they must also decide on whether their report demonstrates that the TM470 learning outcomes have been met.

Before summarising the suggested structure, I have three tips for students:

  1. Ensure that your report is as readable as possible (but do make sure it remains a formal report). The project marker may be unfamiliar with the subject that you are writing about. Take time to set the scene and explain concepts that may be unfamiliar to a reader.
  2. Do have a look through the OU Skills for Study resources (OU website). In particular, I’m a fan of The Good Study Guide which you can find through the OU study booklets page (OU website). The Good Study Guide offers some really helpful advice about researching and writing.
  3. Think of the project report as a ‘technical narrative’, or a ‘technical story’. It is also a story that can contain other narratives. There is a story about your planning, a story about your reading, a story about what has been done, and what has been learnt. Make your technical story as interesting as you can.

1. Introduction

In this section, present a really short introduction to the whole project. Try to summarise it in a couple of sentences. Then, provide the reader with a pointer towards what they can expect to see in the next sections. This will ‘prime’ them for what is coming up in the next section. You might also want to allude to what you have achieved, but don’t tell them everything; this is presented in the next sections.

2. Problem description

In this section, go into a bit more detail about what your project. You might want to explain a bit more about the project context or setting. Background information will help the EMA examiner to understand what your project is all about. In some ways, think of the opening sections of the report as a ‘spiral’, where you gradually lead the examiner towards the detail of what you’ve done. In some way, you’re teaching the reader about your project.

3. Preparation and planning

In the previous section, you’ve told the examiner what you’re going to do. This section is all about how you’re going to do it. Since sharing detail about your project plan is important, it is a good idea to split this section into a number of subheadings.

3.1 Project Model

A suggestion is to begin by telling the examiner about the project model you’ve chosen. Do have a look at the module materials about this, and what this means. In other words, you could use this section to summarise the project planning approach that you have chosen, and why it is appropriate. 

3.X Resources, skills, activities, risks, plan…

What might follow is a series of subsections about resources that you need, skills, potential risks to the project, and also something about this high level plans. Do say something about what you’re going to be doing, and also what tools you might have used to decide on what you’re going to be doing and when.

4. Legal, social, ethical and professional issues

Legal social ethical and professional issues (LSEPI) are important, especially in TM470. As future Computing and IT professionals, it is important to be mindful about the impact of a project or development on wider society, and any implications it might have. Also, if a project involves working with people to uncover requirements, it is important that you treat everyone in an ethical way. The module team offers a bit of guidance about this topic, but for further inspiration it might be a good idea to have a quick look through the British Computer Society Code of Conduct (BCS website).

5. Literature review

This section is all about showing the examiner what you have read or studied, and how this has influenced the project work that have done. I’ve suggested it comes at this point, after the LSEPI section, since the identification of some legal, social, ethical or professional issues might raise questions that can only be answered by further reading.

There are different ways to structure a literature review. Two ways are: by theme, or by time. In other words, by the subjects that you have read about, or the order in which you have read things. I always prefer thematic literature reviews since they enable the writer to adopt a more critical approach. This means you can more directly and easily compare and contrast different opinions from different sources.

In this section, do try to reference as widely as possible. Do take the time to reference other modules you have studied (including textbooks and module blocks), any technical text books you might be using in the next section, and also do a bit of digging into the OU library (which all students have access to).

Fellow tutors have offered the following guidance: “show you understand the importance of a source; show you recognize the limitations of your sources; show how the literature has influenced the direction of the project and informed your thinking, and show how the literature has justified decisions”.

6. Project work

This is one of the most important sections of the report. It shows the examiner what you have done. It should ideally be a series of case studies that presents a narrative (story) of what you have done, and should relate back to the plan that you have described. To structure everything, it is a good idea to separate everything out into a series of subheadings; one for each mini case study.

Drawing on comments from fellow TM470 tutors, the examiner needs to get a feel for the project as a whole, the solution you created, and whether you solved the problem. Importantly, this section should demonstrate your technical and presentation skills, and should be concise.

If you have a project where you have generated a lot of materials, such as interview scripts, survey results, source code, or diagrams, you need to make a choice about what goes in this section, and what you choose to put in an appendix. One way to answer this question is to ask yourself: is this an example of my best work? If so, put something in this section.

7. Review and reflection

By the time you get to this section, you would have prepared a plan, have done some research, and have carried out some project work. This section is all about telling the examiner what you have learnt from the experience of running your project. 

To help you to begin to answer this question, think of those “WH” questions: what, how, when, and why? Ask yourself the following questions: Did you follow your plan? Did you learn the right thing, and the right time, to solve the right problem? How did what you learn help or hinder your project? Also, how did you expand on your level 3 studies?

The more thoughtful your review and reflection section appears, and the more that you appear to have learnt by completing the project, the more evidence there will be that you have obtained some of the TM470 learning outcomes.

8. Summary

To wrap everything up neatly, I tell students to write a short summary. A suggestion is: to offer a reminder about what the project was all about, what project model was chosen, summarise what has achieved, and then to share three things that have been learnt by completing the project. In some senses, this final summary should mirror the introduction section.

9. References

Clear referencing is really important. The aim of this section is to enable the examiner to find an original source, report, textbook, or anything else that has helped you with your project. It also offers a neat summary of all the reading that you’ve done.

For TM470, you only need a references section, not a bibliography and a references section. If you use a resource in the body of your text, make sure that you refer to it in this section. Make sure that you present everything in alphabetical order, and mention dates of publication. If you’re unsure how to format any resource, book, paper, technical report, or bit of software, do refer to the CiteThemRight website.

Appendices

A project report can have any number of appendices. You can use an appendix to share supplementary materials to help the examiner to get a feel for what you’ve done during the course of your project. 

There are no hard and fast rules about how many appendices you should have since every project is different. You might use them to show excerpts of source code, diagrams, consent forms, and data that you might have collected during the course of your project. Whatever works best for you. You should, however, always reference each appendix from within the body of the report, just to make the examiner aware that this may be an important part of your report.

Although you must try to limit your project report to 10k words, there is no limit to how many additional words you can provide within the appendices (but the module team does encourage everyone to be reasonable).

Acknowledgements

You can include an acknowledgement section in your project report, along with a glossary if you feel it is appropriate to include one. 

This acknowledgement section is for this blog post, rather than for a project report. I would like to acknowledge Chris Thompson and Karl Wilcox, who have been very generous in sharing their tutorial resources with me. I would also like to acknowledge Alexis Lansbury, who is my TM470 line manager.

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Reflecting on TM470

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 17 Sep 2019, 15:17

I’ve now been tutoring on TM470, the Open University’s Computing and IT project module, for three years.

I heard it once said that it takes around three years to get to grips with the tutoring of a module; I agree with this view.

After this amount of time, you’ve marked a good number of TMAs, EMAs and have a solid appreciation of what is on the module website. You also (hopefully) should have a thorough understanding of what is in the head of the module team, enabling you to respond to student queries with a degree of confidence.

Also, three years is enough time to get a feel for what makes up a good project report, a distinction level project report, and a project report that might not pass. Having that experience has also enabled me to question what I do as a tutor, and to help me offer the best feedback I can.

What follows is a set reflections that relate to what I think is important when tutoring on the project module. I’m sharing since it might be of interest to fellow tutors, TM470 tutors, but also the module team too (since they, of course, guide how we approach everything).

These are, of course, my own opinions, and I do expect that different tutors will (of course), have different views - and, of course, have slightly different practices.

Welcoming students

I feel that I started very well in my first presentation but didn’t do so well with this on my second presentation. This said, I think I’m happy with the approach that I have used with the most recent presentation.

I begin by sending each student an email to say hello. If I see that any of my students have any additional requirements, I add a sentence to each introductory email to ask them to let me know whether there’s anything I need to be aware of to ensure that I help them with their studies. This tends to open up a dialogue.

In my introduction, I also mention that it might be useful to have a quick chat on the phone. I try to do this with every student in my group, but not everyone wants to have a chat; and that’s okay. I feel it’s important to be supportive whilst not being pushy.

A final point is that I also tell students to subscribe to their TM470 tutor group forum. The reason for this is that I use the forum to send updates and reminders about various things, and subscribing enables them to get notifications about those notifications.

Keeping in touch

One of the things I do regularly is send all students regular emails. Not every tutor runs tutorial, but I do; I send them dates of the tutorials as soon as they have been scheduled. I also send them a note to remind them of the TMA cut off dates, and send them reminders to let me know that I would like to receive regular updates.

When I send reminders about a willingness to receive updates, I also make the point that everything that is sent to me can also be used and presented within the project report as evidence of progress. I hope this offers a further encouragement!

Tutorials

At hinted at earlier, some TM470 tutors run tutorials, whereas other don’t. There isn’t a requirement for TM470 tutors to run tutorials; some tutors only run one to one sessions with their students.

I find tutorials useful for a couple of reasons.

At the start of the module, I fix a date for two introductory sessions: one that takes place in the evening, and one that takes place in the day time. I send all these dates to students in a group email and post the same information about them on our tutor group forum.

I split my tutorials in to two parts: the first part that is recorded, and the part section that is not. Dividing the tutorials in this way enables the first section to be viewed by the students who were not able to attend either of the tutorials. The second section becomes an informal chat between the students who come along.

In the introductory tutorial, I talk about the assessment strategy and the first TMA and do some screen sharing to introduce students to the module materials.

I tend to run two EMA preparation tutorials which has a similar structure, but with more focus on what a good EMA might look like. I also do some screen sharing: I take the students to the referencing guidelines site, and might even take them to some Skills for Study sections materials that are about academic writing.

One-to-one sessions

Every student has four hours of personal one to one time. I don’t keep a very close tally of how much of that time is used; some of it could be roughly allocated to tutorials, whereas other bits of time could be allocated to one to one sessions.

I mention one-to-one sessions in different ways: in the TMA feedback, during tutorials, and in the keeping in touch emails. If students don’t want to take me up on the offer of a one to one chat, that is okay, but I do make it clear that this is an option that is available.

Rather than having telephone chat, I’ve tended to use the Adobe Connect tutor group room. One of the great advantages of this is that we can do some screen sharing. Screen sharing is really useful. I’ve used it as a way to get an understanding of how a student’s draft submission is coming along, or to guide students to resources that have been prepared by the module team. I sometimes give the student screen sharing permissions so they can take control of those sessions.

TMA Feedback

There are, of course, two main components of the TMA feedback: the summary page, and the on-script comments.

On the summary page, I tend to focus on offering three clear points of advice that student should work on to improve their performance on the next TMA. When I’m writing these points, I try to explain why these points are important, and how they connect to the aims and objectives of the project module.

When I’m working on later TMAs, I always tend to do a quick read back of the previous TMA summaries. On occasion, I’ve copied and pasted text from the previous TMA and have put it on the current TMA, saying: “I gave the following feedback; it is important because…”.

I also tend to conclude a TMA with a suggestion about having a follow up call or chat.

For the on-script comments, I encourage students to use the Word in built heading tools (if they are not using them already). I make the point that it enables the student to use the navigation tool (which helps the student to view the structure of their EMA). Also, increasingly I tend to offer some practical advice about the formatting of sections (showing how students can move between portrait and landscape page layouts). To help students get to grips with these elements of Word, I have also offered link to various YouTube videos to help them understand the points that I’m making.

Tutor group forum

Students don’t tend to you my tutor group forum much, but I tend to use it as a simple notice board.

Here’s a summary of how I use it:

  • Sharing dates of tutorials, and providing of links to recordings.
  • Giving updates about TMA marking. I make a post to the forum when I start marking, and then post again when I’m roughly half way through (to give students some idea about when to expect their results). I tend to ‘pin’ these posts at the top of the forum during the marking.
  • Sharing of additional resources and links.
  • A space for students to ask questions.

Staff tutors can (or may) dip into tutor group forums from time to time to see what is going on. A well populated tutor group will give a staff tutor the impression that all is well with the group.

Additional resources given to students

During this most recent presentation I prepared two really short resources in the form of Word documents that might help students:

  • A very short sample introduction to an imaginary project and project report. This sample presents a structure that is very similar to the guidance that is offered by the module team.
  • A sample table of contents, which includes an introductory section, a section that outlines the project, a literature review section, an account of project work section, a reflection section, a summary or concluding section and a series of imaginary appendices.

The aim of these two resources is to emphasise the point that the project report, and it’s overall degree of readability is really important.

Advice to students

I’ve sometimes offered the following tips at various points during the module. I might mention these suggestions during tutorials, or in one-to-one sessions:

  • Make sure that you use the features that are provided in Word well; they can help you to find you way though, navigate, and work with larger documents. 
  • Try to write the literature review as a narrative rather than a list of papers or resources that you consider to be useful for the project.
  • Think of the examiner as a friend who doesn’t know very much about the project (and subject) that you’re writing about. Subsequently, you might have to spell things out for them. Don’t worry about doing this, since this will all help to demonstrate your understanding of some important concepts.
  • Consider the reflection section, the bit in the EMA where you have to write about how things have gone, as a gift. It’s a gift because it’s all about you, and there are no wrong answers, and the examiner really wants to hear about you and what you’ve learnt. Also, don’t be afraid to be opinionated! Tell us what went well, what didn’t, why you thought that, and what you might have done again differently.
  • Provide copies of two different Gantt charts; one that was created at the start of the project, and the Gantt chart that was being used as the student got to the end of the project. These two Gantt charts gives a student a neat way to generate some interesting reflections, simply by considering the differences between what the plan was at the start, and what happened during the project.
  • Use the appendices as a way to share extra information about what project work you’ve done on the project.
  • Keep to the word count (10k words) but don’t worry too much if you go over by a little. If you’re going over by a lot, consider putting some bits into a series of appendices, but always make sure that you reference these in the body of your report.
  • Finally, find someone to proof read your report. It’s okay to do this, since you’re the one who is doing the writing, not whoever is doing the proof reading. Typing mistakes can and do happen. A friendly proof reader will be able to pick up on some of them.

EMA marking

EMA marking is hard work, and we don’t have too much time to do it in. When I start marking, whenever I open an EMA report, I turn tracking on, and highlight sections that I’ve read that really stand out to me as being good, important or significant. When I’ve read everything, I might go back and re-read sections before going to the learning outcomes that are presented in a grading spreadsheet. I then make notes, which are later copied and pasted into the OU’s grading tool.

My own approach is to do some marking first thing in a weekday morning (when I’m fresh), hopefully working through a couple of reports, with a view to doing more over the weekend.

If there is a moderation exercise, the highlighting annotations I’ve added really help me to remember what a project was all about, and why I assigned certain marks against a particular learning outcome.

Closing thoughts

TM470 has a slightly different tenor to the other modules I’ve tutored. Although there is a lot of learning to be done during the project, it is more about doing and writing (and then learning from that doing and writing).

Students sometimes ask whether they can see an example of a project, but this is something that the module team doesn’t provide. I can understand why students would like to see a sample (to understand more about what the module team expects), but I can also why the module team doesn’t provide one (they worry that the tutors would then receive a hundred or so projects that look remarkably like the sample projects).

One of the challenges (in my opinion) of being a TM470 tutor is to help students understand what the module team expects, but from the perspective of their own projects and their previous studies.

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Making a TM470 log by using a blog

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TM470 is the Computing and IT project module. The project module allows students to draw on skills and ideas that they have studied and developed during earlier level three modules. It enables students to demonstrate skills across a more substantial piece of work.

This short blog post is basically a bunch of ideas that might be useful for fellow TM470 tutors, but also for any TM470 student (and anyone else who might be involved in a project module).

A really important part of TM470 is the end of project report which summarises everything that has been done. The report requires students to present a description of the outcomes of the project, and what has happened during the project.

The project log

TM470 project can last up to eight months. During that time, a lot can happen. To keep track of things the TM470 module team recommend that students create something that is called a project log. Here’s an excerpt from the module materials that offer a bit of guidance:

"Keeping a project log is similar to keeping a diary. It is a useful aid in helping to manage a project. In a project log, ideally you should make a log entry each time you have a work session.

Whether recorded on paper or electronically, your log is where you keep details at regular intervals of salient events or facts that have occurred in your project. The log differs from your plan in that it provides more detail of things you have done, whereas the plan is a schedule of what you are or should be doing. The log is purely historical information; it can contain facts about your project but probably more important is writing down reflections about what you are doing."

The module team suggests that a log serves three purposes:

  1. They provide a reminder of how your project developed; this will be useful when it comes to writing your TMAs and EMA.
  2. They help you when in discussions with your tutor because they provide a record of how you planned your project, how you managed your time, how you tackled the tasks and how you dealt with any problems.
  3. Using the log sheets on a regular basis will help you to keep to your schedule, and may suggest changes to your schedule. 

Students are told that they should be spending approximately ten hours per week on their project. The project log also enables students to keep track of how much time they’re spending on the project. 

Students are also encouraged to submit excerpts of their blog to their tutor, to keep them informed about how their project is progressing.

The OU VLE

The module team suggests that a log might be recorded on paper, or recorded electronically. An accompanying question is: what form might an electronic log take? One approach is to use a word processing document. You could have a day for every page. One idea is to record a ‘session number’, record a date, record how long was spent working, and also a summary of what was done during that session, and perhaps some thoughts about what the next steps might be. In some ways, this kind of log has parallels to a ‘work log’ that a researcher might keep.

Rather than using a word processing document another idea is to keep a TM470 log in the OU VLE blog.

Every OU student is given their own blog, which is hosted in the university virtual learning environment. The OU blog is useful because it provides a number of useful features:

  1. It allows students to automatically record the date and time of any entry that is made.
  2. It allows students to add ‘tags’ against particular blog entries. A tag, of course, is a useful word that can be used to help find things again. Using the OU blog you can quickly find blog entries with the same tag (in the way that the tag for this post is TM470).
  3. Students can any log entry with other TM470 students, and they can share their TM470 log entries with you. Blogs can be easily shared with a tutor, enabling them to more directly understand progress on a particular project.
  4. The blog can be accessed easily through a web browser: you don’t have to use the same word processing software every time.
  5. The blog is automatically backed up by the university, which means that you don’t have to worry. 

Another feature of the OU blog is that students can choose who sees what is posted. 

The OU blog has three settings: students can keep every blog (or log) post private; this means that a blog can be a bit like a private diary. Another setting is that blog posts are only visible to people within the university. This setting is useful for sharing blog posts to other TM470 students. The final setting is to make a blog post visible to the entire world. In terms of TM470, I personally recommend that this first two options are used.

An accompanying question is: how can students begin to use their blog? The answer is to look for their VLE profile. They will soon find a link that allows them to begin posting a blog.

Note taking advice

Whilst the TM470 module team offers some great advice for creating a log, the university also offers other advice which might be useful too, such as note taking techniques which is available on the skills for study website.

Also, the following three useful points (Making notes strategically) have been adapted from Northedge (2005) from his book The Good Study Guide, p.155:

  1. Take an active and enquiring approach to study. Ask yourself questions, such as ‘what is this about?’, ‘what do I want to remember?’ and ‘what do I want to say?’ and writing down the answers.
  2. Flexibility. Make sketched notes or detailed notes according to need. This can be particularly useful when making note to support creativity. These notes could then be ‘written up’ and used within the project log. Plus, having them in a blog form allows them to be searched.
  3. Reflection. Looking at notes and ask: ‘are they doing the job I want?’ and ‘could I be using my time more effectively?’ Or, put another way: are these the right kind of notes.

Sharing blogs with other students

The best way to share blogs with fellow students is to share links to the blogs in the module discussion forums. Once you have a link to a blog, you can then add it to something called a ‘blog feed’, to receive a notification whenever a new update has been made. Another advantage of a blog is, of course, students will see that they’re not alone; that there are others who have to contend with similar challenges.

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Christopher Douce

TM470 New tutor day

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 22 Nov 2016, 09:46

I first joined The Open University as a part time tutor back in 2006 where I tutored a module called M364 Fundamentals of Interaction Design. Knowing that this module was coming to an end I decided to apply to tutor on another module: TM470 The Computing and IT project, and I was successful!

I was invited to attend a ‘new tutor day’ which took place in the West Midlands regional centre in Birmingham (which is, sadly, closing in the new year) to learn about the ins and outs of tutoring this module. This was also an opportunity to meet my TM470 mentor, fellow TM470 tutors, and some of my colleagues who support the delivery of computing and IT modules from the Manchester and Birmingham offices. This blog post has been drawn from a set of notes I’ve made during the day, which took place on 2 July 2016.

Project choice

I’ve noted down the question: ‘what makes a good project theme?’ It’s a simple question and one that is very important: students must have a clear idea about what the problem is that they want to solve within their project. It should also have sensible limits, i.e. students shouldn’t aspire to creating the next big app for the iPhone.

Successful projects are those that draw upon practical skills that have been learnt (or studied) in previous level 3 modules. A project could also build on something that has been done before. Students should (ideally) be knowledgeable about the domain or environment in which a project relates to (so they don’t have to spend lots of time doing research into an area that isn’t familiar to them). Also, importantly, a project should be connected with something that a student is interested in doing (so they maintain their motivation).

Another bit of advice is: students should stick with using software that they know; don’t be tempted to play with new things, since it’s easy to get tied up in knots.

Sometimes students might be tempted to draw upon projects that relate to their work place. An important point is: work and TM470 have different goals; it is probably best to keep work and study separate for the simple reason that changes at work might jeopardise the project. This rule, however, doesn’t have to apply in all cases: students need to understand what is required from TM470.

Another really important point is: a project doesn’t have to have a successful outcome to submit a final project report. Students can still pass if things go horribly wrong: it is the description of the project, the learning, and the reflections that all count towards the final scores. If these are done really well, students will get a really good pass.

Another note I’ve made is all about research: ‘not really understanding what is meant by research that is academic, or what is meant by an academic literature review (and analysis)’. Some projects may be research projects, in the sense that they are an in-depth and critical study of a particular area. If students choose research projects, the need to be clear in terms of what is required of them. 

Independent learning

TM470 is different to other modules, since what really matters is being able to demonstrate independent learning; tutors will not be subject experts in all the areas in which projects are chosen from. A note I’ve made is: ‘if software breaks, it is part of your job on a project to fix it’. The role of a tutor is to push a student into this mind set.

Practicalities

I made a note that we discussed the importance of the introductory letter, and that we might connect this to the use of our module discussion forum.

A really important resource is the OU Library which allows student direct access to a wealth of prestigious journals. Another thought is to direct students to library tutorials (understanding eJournals) about how they can get started.

The project module doesn’t have any official tutorials, since it is difficult to run group events where every student is working on a different project (and will have different learning needs and problems). This said, some tutors do use OU Live to run some unofficial introductory tutors. 

Towards the end of the day, we discussed practicalities about end of module assessment marking, and assignment marking. Key questions that were asked were: ‘how do you do it?’ and ‘what processes do you use?’ The module has a very clear set of marking guidelines that are also known to the students. Ultimately, everything comes back to the question of whether students have met the learning outcomes.

Reflections from first presentation

Now that I have more of an idea how the module works and how it is structured, I think I will run an introductory OU Live tutorial at the start of the next presentation. This will allow me to learn more about the student’s ideas and understand more about their potential problems. I will also use this to emphasise the importance of time management.

In comparison to other modules that I have tutored on, I found the marking to be pretty straightforward once I knew how it worked. It took me a bit of time to find the forms, and then to internalise the marking criteria (but this is always the case when starting to work on a new module). One of the things that I really enjoyed was looking at the diversity of the projects, and how the students tackled them.

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