16 October 2019 Minutes

Minutes for the Informatics Board of Studies Meeting at 14:00hrs-16:00hrs, Wednesday 16th October 2019, Appleton Tower, Room G:05


 Welcome to all members 

Present - Alan Smaill (Convener), Anne MacKenzie (Administrative Secretary) Sharon Goldwater, Alex Lascarides,  Pavlos Andreadis, Mohsen Khadem, Bob Fisher, Cristina Alexandru, Iain Murray, Paul Jackson, David Sterratt, Tiejun Ma, Heather Yorston, Jane Hillston, Vicky Mactaggart  

Apologies  - Rik Sarker, Milos Nikolic, Boris Grot, Ram Ramamoorthy, Steve Renals, Paul Anderson, Alex Burford


Draft Minutes of Previous Meeting  - 1st May 2019 minutes approved subject to an amendment to the Item 2 action for SG

re Operating Systems  to read “Action on ITO to create the DRPS


Matters Arising

16102019_BoS Item 1) New Programme Title - MSc in Business Informatics - Advanced Technology for Financial Computing - Tiejun Ma (TM)

TM presented the proposed changes to the proposed MSc as a consequence of previous BoS discussions.

To address the capacity issues with Business School (BS) finance group courses, there are now 3 courses (30 credits) that BS are happy to offer that will not have capacity issues.

In recognition that the MSc would benefit from more interdisciplinary courses, it had been agreed to involve Mathematics, who offer similar courses to BS but with more computation involved.

BS are concerned about overlapping content with some of their courses – Informatics has agreed to be careful about this.

The suggested title of Advanced Technology is thought to be more Informatics aligned than the more general Business Informatics proposed originally.

AS asked about timetabling for the new Programme and SG confirmed that if the MSc is approved by April 2020 then the earliest intake will be September 2021/22

An intake of 20 students is estimated in Year 1 requiring 20 MSc Projects in Informatics

The BS is likely to want to limit their course modules to 10 to 15 students, 20 at very most, so will need some courses to be available from other schools such as Maths.

The plan is to offer 5 optional modules from 2 schools and to continue to introduce new optional modules, such as the Maths course on Financial Modelling and Optimisation Optional courses may be open to other BS students.

OUTCOME: The proposal was conditionally approved subject to the capacity issues being addressed and a documented agreement reached with BS. The Programme should then come back to the BoS for final approval, but also needs some updates to DPT (e.g., some courses are listed in wrong semesters)

ACTION: for TM and SG to discuss the DPT before the final submission.

ACTION: for TM to define the ongoing requirements from Maths and BS over several years and to bring this back to BoS with final submission. Will programme numbers be able to increase beyond 20 and still have access to their courses? Will we need to agree this with BS before doing so?)

ACTION: for Stuart Anderson and Jane Hillston (JH) to discuss using Postgraduate Students for project supervision.

ACTION: for JH - Due to the anticipated capacity issues there will need to be an agreed commitment in writing from the BS agreed between the respective Heads of Schools that will cover a number of years.

ACTION: for TM to bring the finalised version back to BoS


16102019_BoS Item 2) New Course Proposal - Foundations of Natural Language Processing  - Alex Lascarides (AL) & Sharon Goldwater

This FNLP proposal is the implementation of recommendations approved by BoS 18 months ago. INF2A will be removed entirely and the UG3 FNLP 10 credit course will become the 20 credit FNLP UG3 course proposed here. This means no NLP will be taught in non-hons courses. The 20 credit FNLP course will feed into the 4th yr NLU+ and will use the same text book as ANLP but with a different emphasis.

The FNLP UG course will focus more on language so that students will be better prepared for NLU+ and their honours project work. The course is likely to have fewer students than the current version (60 to 80 cf the current 150 students for 10 credit FNLP).

The 20 credit FNLP should be added to the MSc handbook

OUTCOME: Approved.

ACTION: Anne MacKenzie (AM) to create new course in DRPS and in spring, add to next year’s DPTs according to info in proposal.

ACTION: Bjoern Franke (MSc organizer) or delegate to add to next year’s MSc handbook when updating


16102019_BoS Item 3) New Course Proposal - Informatics Project Proposal [Distance] - Bob Fisher (BF)

This course is proposed to address the fact that distance learning students are now approaching the project phase of their programme. Although there have been a few adhoc projects, this course will streamline the process and use normal project allocation mechanisms. The existing IPP is already nearly all online and has 1 lecture in the media hopper replay. Special tutorials are arranged via skype between student and supervisor during IPP stage and during project.

BF –clarified that Skype can handle around 5 – 15 students or larger groups can use Collaborate.

BF explained that homework is allocated in teams of two to make it easier to facilitate live discussions and students across different time zones

PA commented that the time zone issue made things hard to organise – staff might need to work more out-of-hours to cope with the 15 to 18 hrs time difference – i.e. Japan to British Columbia. A mid-afternoon exam might work ok, but this is not necessarily a solution for a weekly tutorial. There is also a trend amongst DL students in UK or Europe to want after hours meetings.

SG commented that it was not obvious to supervisors that a student was a DL student and IM commented that it wouldn’t be desirable to accidentally accept a DL student into a cluster project with group meetings.

There are potential problems ahead if supervisors do not agree to open their projects to DL students – a bigger problem might be that the DL students can see all projects offered, The committee agreed to investigate if DPMT can restrict the project visibility so thatDL students only see projects available to them.

JH commented that a communication campaign is needed with staff to engage with DL students – these are generally strong/motivated students.

A question was asked re the workload associated with DL students – BF replied that individual students had similar workload but if a cluster project the workload will be higher. However, in general DL students are more mature with fewer issues.

OUTCOME: Approved, 10 credit course Informatics Project Proposal for distance students. This will run in semester 2, starting in January 2020.

ACTION: SG to discuss the DMPT project list restriction question with Stuart Anderson (SA) or directly with Tom Spink (TS)

ACTION: ISS to make immediate changes to DRPS once approved by convenor's action.


Items 4, 5 and 6 were considered together along with the UG Plan reminder document attached to the agenda that explains the context for these three new course proposals.


16102019_BoS Item 4) New Course Proposal - Discrete Mathematics & Probability - Heather Yorston and Sharon Goldwater

HY presented the rationale behind this new course proposal to replace DMMR. The course addresses the disparity in level between the introductory lectures and the hard tutorials and provides extra maths to bring UK students up to the standard of their European counterparts. The proposal asks for longer tutorials so that proof and problem solving can be worked through during the tutorial.

PJ commented that this was a good fit with the feedback from SSLC where students were asking for more ‘scaffolding’ between the lecture foundation level and middle ground tools to tackle the maths.

JH brought up the requirement for advanced topics in Markov Chains as a handful of courses require students to know this. (Whilst it is recognised that discrete line markov chains are covered to some extent, Jane Hillston, Kousha Ettesami and Jacques Fleuriot all run courses that require students to know about continuous time Markov chains and how to build and manipulate them)  SG argued that this is a specialized topic required for only a few courses, and at Level 11 it can't be assumed that MSc students will have seen it anyway. However not including it at UG2 will mean that these few courses may need to spend time on it instead of some other topic.

HY asked whether the need to recommend a different text book / change assessment method will get Convener approval?

BF commented on the amount of course material already in 1st and 2nd Yr UG courses gave little room for flexibility to take optional courses and asked whether students currently complain about this?

OUTCOME: Approved.

ACTION: ITO to create course descriptor in DRPS.

ACTION: If HY wants to change text/assessment, bring to convenor in the first instance but may need to come to full board.


16102019_BoS Item 5) New Course Proposal - Foundations of Data Science - Sharon Goldwater, Heather Yorston & Kobi Gal

FDS is a companion course to DMP which will be a 20 credit long thin course delivered over Semester 1 and 2 so that probability theory learned in DMP semester 1 can be used by FDS in semester 2. The course will first be delivered in 2021/22 and will cover some content currently provided in INF2B-Learning but less focussed on maths aspects of Markov chains adding in some statistics visualisation, scientific presentation of results, reasoning about what is going on and ethics/privacy considerations.

BF asked if this replaces the existing 2nd yr INF2B-Learning –yes and adds in 10 credits of probability with Applications course – This is part of the overall changes under discussion from the UG curriculum changes plan.

AL asked for an example of a mini project and SG provided an example based on data repositories of public data sets – select 1 from 4 or 5 sets formative descriptive work followed by summative machine learning.

Learning outcomes – did not appear to cover error analysis – what is going wrong, confusion matrix etc. SG agreed that this was not discussed

SG asked JH for comment on lab space and staff requirements, because both this course and the next item on the agenda (SEPP) represent likely increases from current courses. JH confirmed that no additional lab space would be available for SoI in the next year, and projections following that are uncertain. Therefore Informatics will need to liaise with central timetabling to estimate futureincreases in space requirements. In particular, lab space will be an issue, and unlikely to be resolved in the short term and this may require changes to the planned delivery methods.

HY suggested that DMMR (DMP?) tutorials could be worked in bigger groups – more collaborative working but tends to become tutor led sessions. Larger/longer tutorial groups also supported by Alan Smaill and Bob Fisher. However this also raises timetabling/space concerns.

HY thought the main problem with moving to all 20 credit courses strands students requiring 10 credits. DS commented that there would be an overlap with IAML . SG agreed that there is some overlap – but actually less than currently with Inf2b-Learning.OUTCOME: Committee membership had no major objections to this proposal and would expect to see it brought back to the November or December BoS meeting.

ACTION: SG to get lab space information from ITO and incorporate this issue into the full course proposal. KG, SG, HY to bring the full course proposal to the next BoS.

ACTION: Institute reps to submit any additional comments well before next meeting.


16102019_BoS Item 6) New Course Proposal - Software Engineering and Professional Practice - Cristina Alexandru

CA presented the proposal for the new SEPP course. The need for contemporary development lifecycles, developing large scale software systems, working from functional requirements, managing change requests, more practical experience, working with clients etc.  Assessment will be coursework only. No tutorials and 2 labs per week. The course structure is designed to be iterative learning, building, assessing and peer reviews

The new course structure had been worked out at an ELDeRworkshop involving Paul Patras, Alex Burford, Paul Anderson, Paul Jackson and Gillian Bell, and structure and content discussed with fellow academic colleagues for input.

Feedback expressed some concerns about the volume and timing of the proposed work both for the students and for the academic workload. The iterative model could be very high maintenance.

JH expressed concern that the course did not appear to teach any programming and thought the students may not have the knowledge needed to make the most of the proposed course model. She also commented that a course like this would need to allow time for self- learning such as Linda course

SG suggested a mini course from week 1 to gauge programming ability and also suggested a learning outcome about ability to read technical documentation

A suggestion was to invite some guest industrial lecturers and BF offered to share information about commercial development tools used by industry placements for Students at Trinity College - the same tools crop up through 25 independent commercial companies

JH suggested CA talk to the SDP tea – re technical support and preparing students for SDP without overlapping

AS asked for the management of the course to be simplified and for CA to talk to SA and to Conrad Hughes

OUTCOME: To be revised

ACTION: BF to supply CA with a list of widely used commercial development tools

ACTION: CA to talk to SDP Course Organiser(s) re technical content and avoiding overlap

ACTION: CA to talk to Stuart Anderson and Conrad Hughes about the course structure


AOCB (Any Other Current Business) 

There was no other current business.