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TM470 Considering software requirements

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Thursday, 11 Apr 2024, 09:30

If your TM470 project is all about the developing software to solve a problem, requirements are really important. Requirements are all about specifying what needs to be built and what software needs to do. A good set of requirements will also enable you to decide whether or not your software development has been successful. They can help you to answer the question: “does it do what we expect it to do?” There is a direct link between requirements and testing.

The exact nature of your requirements will depend on the nature of your project. There are different types of requirements. Two high level types of requirements are: functional requirements and non-functional requirements. Modules such as TM354 Software Engineering provide some further information about the different types and categories, and different aspects you might want to consider. 

One thing that you need to decide on is: how to you write down your requirements? The decisions that you take will, of course, relate to what your project is all about. Some projects will need formal approaches, perhaps using Volere shells, whereas other projects may use something like use case diagrams. If your project is interaction design heavy, your requirements may be embodied with artefacts such as sketches, prototypes, scenarios and personas. To learn more about these different approaches, you need to refer back to the module materials for some of the modules you have studied. You should also consider having a look in the OU library to see what you can find.

There is also, of course, also a link between your chosen project model, and your choice of requirements. Stakeholders are also of fundamental importance: you need to know who to speak with to uncover what your requirements are. You need to make a decision about how to record your requirements, and justify why you have adopted a particular approach. Different people will, of course, understand requirements in different ways. How you speak to fellow software engineers will be different to how you speak to end users.

I recently listened to a really interesting podcast about requirements engineering from something called Software Engineering Radio, which is associated with the IEEE Software magazine. Here's a link to the podcast: Software Requirements Essentials: SE Radio 604 Karl Wiegers and Candase Hokanson.

Although this is just over an hour (and I know everyone is busy), it is worth a listen.

Some key themes and topics addressed in this podcast includes:

  • What do requirements mean?
  • What is requirements elicitation?
  • How can requirements be presented? Or, what is does a requirement specification look like?
  • Do users know what they need?
  • How much requirements analysis is needed?

The podcast concludes with a question which begins: what tips would you share for someone who is involved with an ongoing project? (The answer to this question is very pragmatic)

Reflections

An interesting reflection (and comment that emerged from this podcast) is that the requirements approach that you adopt relates to the risks that are inherent within your project, and the implications of any potential software failures. This, in turn, is linked to the LSEP issues which are starting to be explored within your TM470 TMA 2.

When you are addressing requirements, you can highlight different requirement gathering approaches in your literature review. Do use module materials that you have previously studied as a jumping off point to do some further reading about the subject by looking at resources you can find in the OU library, but do be mindful about getting sucked into various ‘rabbit holes’; requirements engineering is a subject all of its own. When it comes to your TM470 project, you need to make practical decisions, and justify your decisions.

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Christopher Douce

TM470 British Computer Society (BCS) requirements

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One of the interesting things about the OU Computing and IT (Q62) qualification, and closely related qualifications is that it is accredited by the British Computer Society (BCS).

The TM470 undergraduate project module plays an important role in that accreditation, since it enables students to gain direct experience of running and managing their own project, which is an important graduate skill.

Although I’m not (yet) a member myself, the BCS is what you call a professional association. It supports, develops and campaigns for its members. Gaining an OU Computing and IT degree means that you may be able to apply to become something called a Chartered IT Professional (CITP). If you become a BCS member, and a CITP, you can be accepted into something called a public CITP register, which is a further formal accreditation of your status and standing as an IT professional.

Universities that offer degrees that are accredited by the BCS have to go through a formal accreditation process, which is described in an accreditation guidelines document (BCS, pdf).

For those studying TM470, it is worth having a quick look at section 2.5, which is about major projects which are described as follows: “projects must include the students undertaking practical work of some sort using computing/IT technology. This is most frequently achieved by the creation of an artefact as the focus for covering all or part of an implementation lifecycle.” (p.12).

What follows is an abridged version of a summary of what a final project report should contain, according to the BCS (p.12):

  • Elucidation of the problem and the objectives of the project.
  • An in-depth investigation of the context and literature, and where appropriate, other similar products.
  • Where appropriate, a clear description of the stages of the life cycle undertaken.
  • Where appropriate, a description of how verification and validation were applied at these stages.
  • Where appropriate, a description of the use of tools to support the development process.
  • A critical appraisal of the project, indicating the rationale for any design/implementation decisions, lessons learnt during the course of the project, and evaluation.
  • A description of any research hypothesis.
  • In the event that the individual work is part of a group enterprise, a clear indication of the part played by the author in achieving the goals of the project and its effectiveness.
  • References

Looking at the project from another perspective, undergraduate students must demonstrate:

Their ability to apply practical and analytical skills present in the programme as a whole.

  • Innovation and/or creativity.
  • Synthesis of information, ideas, and practices to provide a quality solution together with an evaluation of that solution.
  • That their project meets a real need in a wider context.
  • The ability to self-manage a significant piece of work.
  • Critical self-evaluation of the process.

For TM470 students, all these elements are reflected not only in the module materials, the tuition that is offered by tutors, but also the TM470 learning outcomes (blog). There is also an implicit link here to my more practical suggestions about TM470 Project report structure (blog).

There is, of course, no compulsion or requirement to join a professional association like BCS when you have completed TM470. It is completely up to you, but it does give you a further opportunity to formally recognise your skills and abilities.

Acknowledgements

Acknowledgements are duly given to the BCS. The bullet points summarised above can be found in their accreditation guidelines document, which was last accessed 12 March 2024. At the time of writing I have no formal connection or link to the BCS.

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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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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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Reference management tools

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Friday, 2 Feb 2024, 17:09

When I was doing my doctorate I was introduced to a reference management tool called EndNote. Essentially, it’s a tool to help with your referencing. 

Refencing is a pain. Different publications require references to be done in different ways. Doing computing research took me to other disciplines, such as psychology. There was a striking difference between how referencing was done in, say, a psychology journal, and how things are done in an IEEE journal. All this can be really frustrating an annoying when you’re writing articles for different publications and conferences.

The idea is that you save records of whatever articles and resources you are using during your research (or writing), and after doing this, you can use a Word plug in to automatically generate a set of references in the format of your choice. This way, you don’t have to endlessly waste time editing and adding commas, numbers, and spaces.

It worked a bit like how the Word table of contents feature works. With table of contents, you indicate what is a heading, and then you can ask Word to generate a table of contents at the start of the document. With referencing tools, if you want to use a reference, you add in a citation. When you come to generate a set of references, it will pick up that you’ve used an article, and it will add it to your references list. It will even sort everything into alphabetical order if your referencing format needs that approach.

As well as referencing, I found it really helped my reading, and the process of figuring out what was going on in my research area. I was able to upload some notes about a paper, recording why I thought an article was important, and even when I had added it. You could add keywords, search for authors, order them (and article titles) alphabetically. When I was doing my research, I actually had these paper-based lever arch files with copies of articles I had photocopied from the university libraries. I would save the volume number and section heading in my reference database.

I recently found a floppy disk (yes, I’m that old) that contained all my EndNote references. I think I could still use the data on the disk, but I kind of stopped using EndNote, since I moved away from doing research. I’ve returned to the point where I feel as if I need to return to starting one of these tools again – not to help with my writing (although I might be doing that at some point), but with my reading.

Since I started to use EndNote, towards the end of the last century, I have discovered there are now a couple of competitors: Zotero and Menderley. The mechanisms for finding an using papers have changed: rather than going to the university library, sitting on the floor, and photocopying articles, we now have easy access to extensive online research article databases (if, of course, we are working or studying within a university). What follows are some (short) rough notes about both of these tools.

Zotero

I began by having a look at Zotero. It wasn’t too long before I found a Wikipedia page that offers a bit more information

It’s interesting to note that Zotero is run by an organisation called the Corporation for Digital Scholarship

I began by creating an account, and then downloading a bit of software that runs on my laptop. This bit of software enables me to save information about references that I’m working with (such as books, journal articles, or anything else). I also mange to install a browser extension plug in (which is called a Zotero Connector), and a Word plug in.

When I open Word, I can see a new menu, which reminds me of my old EndNote days. I can see the Zotero Connector, when I look at my list of browser extensions. I note that there’s a new keyboard extension: Ctrl + Shift + S.

There’s another thing that is interesting: a way to share resources with fellow researchers by setting up something called a group. More information about this is available through the Zotero groups page

One of the grumbles that I have heard is that it might be hard (or harder) to move between different devices (but I don’t yet know how true this is). Whether you need to do this does, of course, depend on how you work. One thing I have seen in Zotero is an extensive set of import and export formats. A long standing format that predates both these tools and EndNote is something called BibTex. With this in mind, and being told that I can move between referencing systems, makes me feel a bit better.

Mendeley

The other tool that is around is Menderley. Unlike Zotero, it is supported by a commercial academic publisher, Elsevier. Like Zotero, you need to install bits of software and some plug ins; there is a bit of software that enables you to save your references. An interesting difference is that to gain access, I needed to formally login to the publishers’ digital ecosystem through the university. It appears to be slick and relatively easy to use. From what I’ve heard, it does provide similar functionality.

Reflections

A key question to ask is: which one am I going to use? I did consider going back to EndNote, since it’s what I’ve used before, but after hearing that two of my colleagues are using Zotero, and seeing how easy it is to install the various bits of software, I’m going to try out Zotero. 

I’m going to give it a go to produce references and citations for my next TMA, which means I’ve got to figure out how to add course texts and online materials into the Zotero software that I’ve installed. I would also like to know where everything will be stored. Backups are important. I will, of course, be having a good look at the CiteThemRight guidance, to make sure that whatever set of references are automatically generated are in keeping with official university guidance.

A final reflection is that reference management tools can be useful for undergraduate students too – especially for those who are working on dissertations, end of module assignments, and substantial projects. Like everything, do expect to make an investment in time to figure it all out, and to create your own reference database. It’s very early days for me with Zotero, but I’m hoping it’ll make some aspects of my writing easier. As suggested, I’m hoping it will help with my reading too.

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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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TM470 Project Report as a journey

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Tuesday, 25 Jul 2023, 08:55

The main output from the TM470 project module is a project report. 

The report shares what has been done and what has been learnt. The ‘things done’ bit relates to the planning, the reading (and any research that has been done), and the actual work that has been carried out. The ‘things learnt’ bit is shared in a section which is used to share reflections, or thoughts about all the work that has been carried out.

One of the bits of advice I offer students is: think of the TM470 project report as a “technical story”. When sharing this view with fellow tutors, another tutor, Kawal Banga, shared another metaphor: the TM470 project as a journey. 

Kawal shared a list of 13 really useful points which relate to actions that take place on the journey of completing TM470. The links to the module learning outcomes are, of course, associated with each of these points:

  1. You identified a real business/social problem that could be solved through an ICT solution (LO2), engaging with sponsors/users who needed a solution to the problem. 
  2. You project managed (keeping evidence of records, plans, outcomes) the delivery using a suitable project/process lifecycle (LO9). 
  3. You identified and managed risks (LO3) on the way and identified and utilised skills, resources and people you needed (LO3). 
  4. You made use of technical concepts and principles (LO1) from your Level 3 modules. 
  5. You analysed, designed and developed an ICT solution building on and extending skills from your Level 3 and other modules (or equivalent professional skills), and using any additional skills you needed (LO11). 
  6. You took into consideration any LSEPIs (Legal, Social, Ethical, Professional issues) and EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) issues and modified your project and your behaviour to deal with such issues (LO10).  
  7. You carried out a literature review using quality, credible and relevant sources in which to ground your work, and supporting your decisions (LO4, LO6). 
  8. You worked independently as much as possible and learned new skills and knowledge that you applied to your project (LO8). 
  9. You reflected on things (processes, tools, resources, studying, etc) that worked or things that didn’t work (LO5), and lessons and skills (technical, professional, academic, organisational, project management) that you learned through the project.  
  10. You replanned and rescheduled your work when things went wrong (LO9, LO3, LO5, LO8). 
  11. You communicated effectively through TMAs/EMA, reports, emails etc with your tutor and other project stakeholders (LO7).  
  12. You engaged the sponsors and/or users throughout the project journey, where appropriate, seeking feedback on interim deliverables and they evaluated your final artefact. 
  13. You can prove all of the above with solid evidence that you collected over the project journey, and can communicate this effectively to your tutor and other stakeholders.

It's really helpful to reflect on his list. 

Another thought is that the notion of stories and journeys are compatible with each other. In some respects, my advice for the TM470 Project Report Structure reflect both perspectives. This structure intends to take the EMA examiner on a journey from the start of the project to the final summary, which should clearly highlight the learning that has taken place.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Kawal for giving permission to share his list. Thanks also to fellow tutors who responded to my post about the notion of the project report being a story.

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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 Choosing a project

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 28 Jun 2023, 09:01

I’m a tutor for the Open University's TM470 Computing and IT project moduleTM470 is different from most other OU modules, since it is less about learning about Computing and IT concepts, and more about applying what has been learnt. 

When I was a computing undergraduate, I had to write a dissertation. I had to identify a problem, do some background reading, figure out what I needed to do, go ahead and do what I needed to do, and then write everything up. TM470 asks you to follow a similar process, whilst offering some helpful guidance.

One of the most important decisions that has to be made is choosing a project, or identifying a problem that you want to solve. 

This blog has been written for TM470 students, and aims to share some useful advice and pointers to help you with the process of choosing a project. This post accompanies earlier articles that I have written relate to TM470, which can be found by following my TM470 blog tag (OU blog). The articles about Understanding the literature reviewAcademic writingand the TM470 Project report structure might be helpful.

In essence, the project is all about showing off: showing off how you can use the skills and knowledge you have acquired throughout your studies. It is also about showing off how you’re able to plan. Finally, it is an opportunity to show off what you have learnt from the process of completing a project.

Starting points

Within the resources section of the TM470 website, there is a section called Study Materials. 

At the start of TM470, it is recommended that you have a good look through four different resource sections:

  • Study Guide
  • Project Choice
  • Sample Project Titles
  • Choosing a Lifecycle Model

Defining a project

The module materials shares dictionary definition of a project: “a carefully planned piece of work to get information about something, to build something, to improve something, etcetera.” 

It goes onto mention some of the key characteristics of a project:

  • They are unique – i.e. specific to a particular set of circumstances and not part of routine activity – and would not arise without deliberate intervention.
  • They are planned around a collection of available resources, schedules, budgets, etcetera.
  • They are self-contained around aims and objectives, and it is possible to decide when they are complete, and whether they have been completed successfully.

For TM470, the module team suggests that a project should:

  • identify a problem,
  • be practical or have a strong practical context,
  • have a proposed solution using (or related to) computing and IT,
  • include aspects of planning, evaluation and revision,
  • be broadly based on one or more level 3 computing and IT modules
  • will not be pure research but will extend and apply what has previously been learnt at level 3 to a practical problem.

Types of projects

There are, broadly speaking, three different types of TM470 project:

  • Development projects: involve creating something: processes, algorithms, software, hardware, interface design, etc.
  • Research projects: involve addressing a research question or analysing the possible solutions to a research problem, making detailed recommendations. This typically involves investigating the relevant academic area in depth.
  • Evaluation projects: are sometimes named ‘compare and contrast’. You might compare processes, analyse an implementation, assess different user interactions, etc.

The most popular type of project is the development project. This is where you build something, and then write a report that describes what you have built, and how you have built it. You would, of course, start the building after you have done some detailed planning and shared a detailed summary of all the resources and skills you need to start the project.

Sometimes, projects will not have a clear boundary between each of these categories. A development (or implementation) project might contain bits of research, and also bits of evaluation too. A project that is based on the interaction design module is a good example of this, where you might ask the question “is my design any good?”

Project choice guidelines

Your project should address a non-trivial question. The question should not have an obvious answer, and this means that it should be “reasonably difficult” (but not too difficult). It should ideally occupy the time that you have available, the resources that you have access to, and draw on many of the skills that you already have. 

Here are a set of collated and edited tips from both myself and fellow tutors:

  • Your project should ideally be based around a clear, concrete problem or scenario that needs a solution.
  • Your project must have a clear focus and ideally focus on a specific level 3 modules that have been previously studied.
  • Your project should be sufficiently detailed to allow you to achieve significant depth of analysis and reflection about what you have learnt and achieved during your project.
  • You should not attempt to do too much.
  • You should choose something that enables you to play on your existing strengths rather trying to learn an entirely new skill set.
  • You should choose something that you are interested in; this will keep you motivated. Make sure that you have fun whilst working on your project.

Starting your project

The first TMA is all about setting the scene and sharing your project ideas with your tutor. It is also used to help you to plan what you are going to be doing:

  • Choose (and justify) an appropriate lifecycle module; always ask why you have chosen the approach you have chosen.
  • Create a project plan and include this in the TMA (and all subsequent TMAs); create a Gantt chart.
  • In your plan, outline very concrete 'deliverables' (including your TMA submission dates), regardless of the type of project.
  • Take time to identify risks: what are they? Write them down and submit them in your TMA.
  • Make notes of what you have read; this can feed into your literature review, and have a look at the OU library to carry out some further research.
  • Write about the resources that you need, the skills that you need, and the skills that you need to develop.
  • Start to think about ethics.
  • Take time to review all the marking grids that are provided with the TMAs: you can almost mark yourself!

Projects connected to your workplace

If you are thinking of basing your project on something that you do in your workplace, there are a number of things that you need to carefully think about:

  • Timing: does the timing of a work-based project align with the timing of TM470? For TM470, you need to go through a complete project lifecycle, from beginning until end.
  • Who is involved: sometimes work-based projects involve teamwork. If this is the case, whatever you do on a work-based project might not be suitable for TM470 for the simple reason that everything that you do, and you submit in your project report must be all your own work.
  • Planning: are you able to do your own planning for the project? If someone else is doing the planning, or deciding on deadlines for your project work, your work-based project might not be suitable for TM470.
  • Complexity: some work-based project address a very small part of a much bigger project. Are you able to choose something that enables you to demonstrate a breath of skills and abilities?

Essentially, TM470 is all about what you do, and what you learn through the process of completing a project. Another way to choose a project is to think about what skills you might like to develop. Only choose a work-based project if all the above criteria can be met.

The degree apprenticeship version: TMXY475

There are two versions of TM470; a degree apprenticeship version, which goes by the code TMXY475, and the non-degree apprenticeship version. Although the aim and structure is broadly similar, TMXY475 has a slightly different focus to TM470. 

Apprentices who are taking TMXY475 have the challenge of identifying a project that aligns in two different ways: it connects with the level 3 OU modules they have previously studied, and also relates to some task or activity which relates to their workplace. Working with their module tutor and line manager, apprentices must choose a project that aims to address a particular business need, or to provide a clear benefit. Their project must also fit within the module timescales.

An important difference is that apprentices will need to not only write a project report, but also to prepare and deliver a presentation about their project.

Reflections

Choosing the right project at the start of TM470 is really important. If it is too simple, there might not be enough to get your teeth into; you need something that really allows you to show off your skills and abilities.

A TM470 must always link back to Computing and IT, irrespective of how technical it is.

Whilst it is often great to see technical skills demonstrated through an implementation or development project, some of the best projects I have seen have been about design. Rather than developing lots of a code, a project might share a series of detailed designs, which are then thoroughly evaluated, by applying the concepts presented through the interaction design module.

TM470 is all about sharing a technical story about what you have done within your project. Within this wider story there will be other stories, such as a story about your reading and what you know (which is presented through the literature review section), and what you have learnt (through the reflection section). 

The key bits of advice I have are: play to your strengths, and try to have fun with it. If you’re having fun with your project, you’re likely to be motivated. Also, do some thorough planning, write down potential risks, and consider the resources and skills that you need to do what you need to do.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank fellow tutors Chris Thomson and Eleanor Dare, who were kind enough to share some PowerPoint materials which offered useful advice and guidance about TM470 project choice. I would also like to acknowledge the TM470 module team, some of whose words I have creatively shared through this post. I would also like to acknowledge Alexis Lansbury, who is my TM470 line manager.

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Christopher Douce

TM470 Understanding the Literature review

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

One of the important components of the TM470 EMA is your literature review.

The literature review component serves a number of purposes:

  • It tells your examiner what you have read, and enables them to understand where you are coming from. In other words, what you present in a literature review enables the examiner to understand, broadly, what your project is all about. 
  • It enables you to demonstrate to your EMA examiner your research and critical thinking skills. 
  • It allows you to demonstrate your writing and communication skills. Just as your TM470 EMA is a narrative of your entire project, the literature review within that broader narrative (or story) presents a narrative  (or story) about your reading and your research.

The literature review can be primarily linked to the following TM470 learning outcome:

LO4: Gather, analyse and evaluate relevant information to complete the project successfully.

It can also be linked to the following learning outcomes:

LO3: Identify, list and justify the resources, skills and activities needed to carry out the project successfully. Identify and address any associated risks.

LO7: Communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions clearly

A really important rule of thumb is: if you use a resource in the body of your report, that resource should be introduced within the literature review section. A resource might be any number of different things, depending on what your project is all about: it might be some module materials, a textbook, an academic paper, or even some software. Also, if you have something in the references section, it should have been ideally in the literature review section (although it is okay to occasionally break that rule, if it helps with the writing and presentation of your project report).

What follows are a set of what I hope to be useful ideas about how best to complete a TM470 project literature review.

Starting the literature review

An important question to ask is: how do I start my literature search? The biggest tip I can offer is: begin with what you know. This might be the specifics about a project, or maybe beginning with some of the level 3 module materials that you have previously studied. If you have studied TM356 Interaction Design and the User Experience, for example, a really good place to start is the module materials, and the accompanying set text. The textbook contains a lot of references which you can look to, and you can find many of these resources in the university library.

The OU library is also a great place to start too. It contains a whole host of useful resources, such as eBooks, and hundreds of thousands of academic articles that have been published in academic journals. When starting out to look at a subject they have not looked at before, some researchers carry out searches of library databases using a systematic approach, making notes of what keywords they have used, and what they have found.

Another tip is: if you find an interesting paper in the OU library it is sometimes possible to find out how many times a paper or article has been referenced, and what papers have referenced the paper that you have found. Looking at the popularity of papers, and chains of referencing can enable you to find out what papers or bits of research have been influential in a subject area. Sometimes, it is also useful to look to see what other papers a particular author has written about.

A final tip in carrying out a literature search: ask your tutor! The TM470 module team try to match students and student projects with tutors who have a particular specialism. After having an initial discussion with your tutor about your project, it is completely okay to ask the question: do you have any suggestions?

Criticality

During the course of your TM470 project, you might look at a lot of resources. Whilst it might be tempting to show everything that you’re read or looked at whilst working on your literature review, please don’t. You need to be selective, and you need to do this to demonstrate your critical thinking skills. 

More information about what this means is available in the OU booklet about Thinking Critically.

In terms of TM470, it is important to ask: how does this resource influence, affect, or relate to my project? A good literature review will introduce some concepts or ideas, which are referenced. These concepts or ideas are then used or applied within the body of a report to solve a particular problem.

Resources

In TM470, there are a number of useful resources that you may have seen, that you should be aiming to revisit whilst you work on your project.

The two key bits of module materials that you must review have the title: Preparing a Literature Search, and Reviewing Literature. A recommendation is to get a printout of these resources (by using the “view as single page” option), and work through each of the activities. You should also have a listen to the Finding and using research podcast. 

From the Preparing a Literature Search resource, do pay particular attention to the four stages of a literature search. The Reviewing Literature resource offers a set of useful pointers in the introduction which helps you to look at resources. 

Regarding this second resource, the following bit of advice is important: “This template isn’t always applicable, not least because it can become monotonous to read. You will need to make your own decisions about which elements should be included and which omitted.” These two sentences relate to the point about criticality, and the need to write a literature review that is appropriate for your own project.

On the subject of writing, a good resource to look to is the OU’s pages about Developing academic English. I also recommend The Good Study Guide, which is available to download as a PDF. Chapters that may be particularly useful when writing the literature review (and your EMA report) are Chapter 9, Researching online, Chapter 10, Writing the way ‘they’ want, and Chapter 11, Managing the writing process.

Referencing

If you use, or write about a resource in your project report, you need to make sure that you reference it correctly. In your TMAs and EMAs, there are two key bits to think about: the first is how to reference something within the body of your report (when you’re referring to something), and the second is how to provide a reference to a resource within the references section towards the end of your EMA. Another rule of thumb is: if you are writing about a resource, you need to reference it. Similarly, if you quote from a resource, you definitely need to reference it. 

The OU makes use of the Harvard referencing system, which is both comprehensive and flexible. Using this system, you can reference just about anything. Not only can you reference books and journal articles, you can also reference art works, web pages, and software. The OU has a subscription to a web resource called CiteThemRight. If you’re unsure how to reference something, do have a look at this website. 

When referencing papers or textbooks, a firm recommendation is to make sure that you also include page numbers. The reason for this is simple. Including page numbers clearly demonstrates attention to detail, and gives your EMA examiner further evidence of your depth of reading and understanding.

Finally, do make sure that you reference (and demonstrate an understanding of) earlier OU modules you have studied. This is a really efficient way to demonstrate to your examiner what topics or subjects your project relates to. You can reference any OU module material, whether it is a module website, a PDF, or printed module block. If you’re unsure about how to reference materials from any of your earlier studies, do ask your tutor.

Common Questions

Do ask your tutor any questions that you might have whilst carrying out a literature review. Here are some answers to some common questions, which might be useful.

Q: How many references should I provide?

A: There is no hard and fast rule for this, since every TM470 is different. You should choose enough resources to demonstrate the reading that you have needed to do, to complete a project that shows technical skills and knowledge you have gained during your degree studies. If pushed, I would say that a distinction quality EMA report might reference as many as 20 resources, but these resources must be important, relevant, and applied within the body of your project. In other words, your chosen resources should have influenced the work that you have done.

Q: How much time should I spend on the literature review?

A: Again, there is no hard and fast answer to this one. Some EMA reports are all about carrying out research. In a research focussed EMA, you might spend more time doing a literature review than you would for a very practical EMA. Overall, the literature review section contributes towards 20% of the overall EMA mark, but this doesn’t mean that you should only spend 20% of the time. A suggestion is to approach the literature review iteratively. For example, whilst trying to solve a technical problem, you might have to do more reading, which means that you might have to go back and to edit your literature review section.

Q: How long should the literature review be?

I’m afraid I’m going to give you a similar answer to all the others: it depends on your project! The TM470 module guidance suggests that you should be able to write everything you need to write within the 10k word limit. Given the importance of the literature review to a number of learning outcomes, I would say that the literature review is quite a substantial section within your EMA: it sets the scene, and goes a long way to demonstrating your critical thinking and problem solving skills (through the resources that you choose). Some project will have longer literature review sections than others. It should be as long as it needs to be, given the aims and objectives of your project.

Summary

This blog has shared bits of advice (and some links) that might be useful when it comes to writing your TM470 literature review.

One of the most useful bits of advice about report writing that someone gave me was: make sure it is interesting. 

Although this bit of advice related to EU project deliverables, it is just as applicable to your TM470 EMA. 

Your TM470 EMA is a technical narrative (a story) about your project. The literature review section within your report is a narrative within a bigger narrative; it is the story of your reading. It is a story which introduces resources which you will then go onto apply later on within your report. It is an important section which demonstrates the depth of your reading, and shares what you know about with the examiner.

Other blog posts that relate to the study of TM470 can be found through the TM470 blog tag.

Good luck with your literature review, and remember to make good use of your tutor, by asking them lots of questions.

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Christopher Douce

Academic writing in TM470

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

One of the questions I’m regularly asked regarding TM470 is: “how should I write my TMAs and the EMA? Should I write it in the first person or in the third person? Should I say ‘I did this and I did that’, or should I say ‘the author did this, and the author did that’?”

First of third person?

I recommend using the first person, rather than the third person, since you are doing the project, and you are learning from the experience of completing it. The reason I say this is because of the importance of writing clearly, and that it does sound a bit weird (and adds a whole load of extra words) if one refers to oneself in the third person, referring to oneself as the author. 

I consider that the first person is more accessible to the TMA marker and the EMA examiner. Clarity is important, since the EMA report at the end of the module is all about presenting what I consider to be a "technical story" or narrative. All this said, the TMAs and EMAs should be written in quite a formal and academic way. In other words, your submissions shouldn’t be too chatty, and should adopt an academic tone, whilst clearly drawing on materials and sources in a critical way.

What does “being critical” mean?

I understand “being critical” as “showing that you have through about something” and demonstrating that through your writing. It can mean understanding that there is an argument to be unpicked, or it could also mean choosing (or summarising) resources that will then be used and applied (in a critical, or thoughtful way) later on during your project.

In an earlier blog I wrote, I dug out a number of links to a some OU study booklets which are really helpful. I do recommend that you have a quick look at Thinking Critically. The section Writing with a Critical Voice, might be useful too. Section 3.4 on page 22, getting critical thinking into your writing, is also useful too. Also, before you get to the writing bit, there’s also a booklet about Reading and Taking Notes.

Another booklet called Preparing Assignments also offers a bit of guidance about writing introductions and conclusions, writing paragraphs, paraphrasing, quoting and referencing.

Referencing

Talking about referencing, it is important to spend a bit of time looking at the CiteThemRight website. This offers guidance about how to reference anything and everything. It contains sections about referencing academic papers, textbooks, internal reports, bits of software, and even personal correspondence. Reference everything that may have influence your thinking. Also, do be specific in your referencing. Do include page references to really demonstrate the extent and the depth of your reading.

My colleague Charly Lowndes also provides A one minute reminder of where to get advice on the OU CiteThemRight citing and referencing style (YouTube).

The project isn’t just about what you do. It is also about what you have learnt, and you can demonstrate that by the extent and the quality of your writing and referencing.

Other resources to look at

Finally, a few other resources that might be useful.

I’m a big fan of a book called The Good Study Guide. I was sent a copy of it when I started my OU studies back in 2006 or 2007. I remember thinking: “if I had read this when I was an undergraduate, I might have gained a higher degree classification”.

I’ve also written this short blog about academic writing (OU blog), which offers a summary of some of the points that a fellow tutor gave me when I was studying.

Whilst working on the project, it is helpful to have a project log. To help to get a view on what is needed, I have written a short blog, but about how to create and structure a TM470 project log (OU blog).

Finally, looking longer down the road to the EMA, I have written a blog that offers a suggestion about a TM470 report structure (OU blog). Since very project is different, these are not hard and fast rules. It is more important to hit the learning outcomes than to try to follow this structure.

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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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Christopher Douce

Making a TM470 log by using a blog

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Wednesday, 10 Apr 2024, 17:05

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.

Update 10/4/24: a fellow tutor, Karl Wilcox has written an (arguably better) companion article, Thoughts on Project logs, which might be helpful. An important point to note is that this article, and Karl's article are opinions from tutors. Students should always refer to the official module materials for guidance.

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