TC Minutes 14th November 2018

Teaching Committee Minutes for 14th November 2018.

Meeting Minutes

Informatics Teaching Committee Minutes

14.00hrs, Appleton Tower room 7.14


Present: Alan Smaill, Ian Simpson, Pavlos Andreadis, Volker Seeker, Qais Patankar, Paul Anderson, Katey Lee, Sharon Goldwater, He Sun, Tim Colles, Alex Lascarides, Richard Mayr, Frank Keller, Mary Cryan, Iain Murray, Neil Heatley.

In Attendance: Gregor Hall (administrator)


19.16 Apologies for Absence: Stuart Anderson, Gillian Bell, Myrto Arapinis.


19.17 Minutes of Previous Meetings – approved


19.18 Matters Arising

18.04 - Moderation of IPP marks - course co-ordinator to adopt the proposed IPP moderation policy. ITO to record policy.  DoLT has contacted Bjoern Franke, IPP course organizer on this item.

18.29-01 – The Convenor raised the ongoing subject of software options for coursework submission. ACTION: to establish sub-committee to investigate options - ONGOING.  DoLT has contacted the RATS team and Learning Technologist to consider options.

18.59-02: Course Moderation Guidelines. The BoE Convenors are officially responsible for ensuring that moderation guidelines are available. DoLT has contacted the convenors about this and hopes they will be able to report back for the December meeting of TC.

18.59-03: Exam Script Loss - DoLT to speak to ITO about the audit process and discuss options. DoLT has spoken to ITO about this, but the conversation was inconclusive.  It may be that the design of our scripts and clear instruction to invigilators may be all we can do.  The suggestion was to consider using coloured paper for “non-standard” components of examinations (e.g. MCQ or write-on scripts) together with instructions to invigilators to collect full sets of exam material from each desk.  Early identification is important so ensuring we have complete sets for each examination number immediately the scripts arrive in the ITO is a priority.

18.60-01: DoLT to raise the possibility of PhDs “help hours” in a sub-committee. Requests for support should be modified to include an additional section covering this. ACTION: Vicky MacTaggart to look into this with DoLT. RESPONSE: We recommend the following changes to the Teaching Support Bids guidance page:

In particular, we should add two bullet points following the “Time Commitment” bullet:

  • Enabling short interruptions:  In a PhD SSLC the students welcomed a suggestion that they could be employed full-time for one month (or multiple months) in order to let them take on a big task such as marking and TA-ing (one month of full time employment could be refactored into two months of half time work by informal agreement).  The students welcomed this because they can interrupt studies for one month (one month is the minimum period) and so minimize the impact of teaching on their research.
  • More Flexible Roles: thinking about having some more flexible roles in your request might help recruit people.  For example a “Piazza Answerer” role would give students flexibility on where and when they work.  In addition have “Office Hours” or “Help Hours” where students can find them when they need to ask questions could provide flexibility and availability of help.


18.60-02: Learning Technologist to produce an overview for the LEARN template. Alex Burford has done so. ACTION: Learning Technologist to provide a report to TC to illustrate how this has been received.   DoLT has contacted the Learning Technologist – DoLT anticipates a report at the December TC.


18.60-03: Degree Programme Management Tool.  ACTION: Don Sannella and Richard Mayer were to modify the text Don has used previously for dissemination. COMPLETE.


18.63: Teaching Programme Review – DoLT. A meeting should be arranged in with a named TPR team – to be discussed at next Teaching Committee. OUTSTANDING.  DoLT has not yet completed this action – he will complete this for the December meeting.


19.06 Proposal to limit UG/MSc project Report Lengths, S.Goldwater.

The proposer introduced the revised proposal, and discussion was invited. The MSc Project Manager had two points to make, the first being that the proposal would turn markers into the “length and style police”, and did not believe that it was scalable. The second point was to ask the questions: what was the proposal supposed to achieve, and how? They believed the proposal to be punitive, and that the necessary resubmissions would be a bad idea. They expressed the opinion that the current guidelines were weakly described, and that much clearer guidelines should be provided. They also believed that students should be able to test upload in order to check conformity, with the aim to reduce punishment.

Another member agreed with the proposal in principle, believed that guidelines should be improved, and said that some automation would be required, as manual checking would be a bad idea. One member stated that in their experience a 40 page limit appeared rather tight, and may be too short to demonstrate the project - they suggested a page limit of 60.

Another member expressed the view that there was no incompatibility between the proposal and the MSc Project Manager’s aims – supervisors definitely needed to improve and provide stronger guidance. They also mentioned that given projects of lengths in the region of 120 pages, project markers were bound to skim read due to time constraints.

The proposer explained that the limit of 40 pages came from their experience of reading PPLS projects, which were in general written far better than Informatics project reports. They believed that the size limit encouraged concise writing. A member opined that a counterproposal be tabled. The implementation was discussed, one member suggesting that a script that lists page numbers could be created, and that this script could generate a list of over-length submissions for ITO to chase. The Computing Support representative pointed out that using the current submit system students can submit as many times as they wish. The proposer also recommended that physical copies are no longer submitted. This was countered by a reminder that in 2016/17 the submission system crashed and physical copies provided a backup to this situation. The chair expressed the opinion that the school needs a simple solution.

A vote was held on the proposal, with 7 for (including a member who had submitted comments in absentia) and 4 against. It was advised that it would be useful to know what the word lengths of the top 10% of projects were. One important aspect was raised – the issue where proving a theorem was integral to the report. It was advised that sometimes there is no way of shortening such a report – a case of “it takes as long as it takes.” It was asked if it might be possible to get special permission to exceed the limit, but this did not appear to be a popular suggestion.

ACTION: the proposal is approved by Teaching Committee.


19.09-01 Student reps to be found for Teaching Committee. Students Qais Patankar and George Karabassis have been appointed. COMPLETE.


19.09-03: Policy on Late Coursework to be clarified. ACTION: DoLT & Informatics Student Support to bring a formal proposal to next TC. DoLT has not yet completed this action with ISS. OUTSTANDING.


19.12 Provision of DPMT for CDTs - A. Lopez. ACTION: (1) Computing Support to be contacted, and a representative to attend TC - DONE. (2) R.Mayr to liaise with T.Spink regarding this modification.


19.13 Updated Proposal for Informatics 1B course – P.Anderson, V.Seeker

The proposers took the board through this updated version of the proposal, which was described as a skeleton proposal, and they acknowledged the concerns listed in the comments added in absentia. The proposers pointed out that as a first year course, the marks obtained do not count towards the final degree Award, and despite the risk of plagiarism, it did not diminish the learning opportunity. One member disagreed that this 20 credit course should be assessed solely on coursework. Another member asked whether the proposer had thought about taking student’s opinions into account. The student representative was asked whether they were particularly upset by the idea of plagiarism amongst fellow students, but they had a preference for coursework.  They mentioned the requirement in Compiling Techniques to give a presentation and suggested that something similar could be used in INF1B to demonstrate understanding.

ACTION: Proposal to be tabled at December Board of Studies.


19.19 MSc Student Numbers – MSc Project Manager

The MSc project manager introduced his paper, pointing out that there are in the region of 400 MSc students doing dissertations that require supervision and perhaps 65 people available to do this.

One member suggested that there were lots of fellowships who could supervise projects. Another thought that new staff could supervise jointly with longer serving staff in order to learn. The situation whereby new staff do no teaching in their first year was considered outrageous by one member, and the suggestion that this policy be revisited was seconded, with the recommendation that this be taken to Strategy Committee. A member related their experience of employing TAs as technical support for projects, explaining that supervising 7 students with TA support was preferable to taking 4 students with no support. It was pointed out that the loading for UG4 projects was not the same as MSc dissertations. The comment from an absent member were read out, regarding the loss in research time if more supervision was done, and the Head of School’s response was that this load was acknowledged, supervising two more students being equivalent to a working week. The issue of the numbers of MSc students admitted was raised by the Head of ISS, who believed that the current system was the least worst way of doing things. One member was of the opinion that College did not appear to understand our concerns, as growth was the overall aim.

ACTION: Head of School to inform Strategy Committee.


19.20 Clusters of MSc Projects - MSc Project Manager

A brief guide for internal and external supervisors.


19.22 AOCB: Grade Inflation – Head of School

Head of School: in the final year of 2017-18, a high percentage of our students obtained a 1st Class Honours. There was no real press coverage of this, which was fortunate, but it illustrated how a mark which should convey top class ability has become meaningless. This should be remedied, and shows the need for staff to engage with the Common Marking Scheme (CMS). The top 30% of marks listed in the CMS are all unhelpfully described as “Excellent”, whereas they should be described as Excellent (70-79%), Outstanding (80-89%) and Exceptional (90-100%). This approach should be taken in all years, not just for Honours years. There are students who complain about getting marks of 75%. The situation holds real danger of reputational risk to the School, and a collective effort must be made to change it.

One member asked if this was because coursework was too easy, or marking was too lax. This was answered by a colleague who said that the issue was that assessments were numerically additive – in short, more work got the students more marks, so if enough work was done, very high marks could be attained. The Head of School added that the last 20% should be hard to get, and the last 10% very hard. A member mentioned that there was a big variation in average marks, with some courses averaging 90% each year, and that such courses should be targeted. Scaling has been discussed as a solution, and it has been used before for individual courses, often after the Stage 1 Board of Examiners, but this drew the observation that it would be best to tackle the problem before this stage. It was suggested that Convenors need to speak to the course co-ordinators responsible for the most notable cases. An ex-Convenor pointed out that he and the External Examiners were surprised that historic data on course averages was not readily available. One member described a rubric used at another Higher Education institution which mapped out exactly how each course mapped onto the CMS, and the Head of School also mentioned a similar proforma used at Southampton University – e.g. “What Excellent Students Get”. It was mentioned that External Examiners do not always get the full picture of why a course gets higher than average marks, which can depend upon the cohort – some years are just better than others. One member warned of attempting to regulate a solution to this problem, or expecting EEs to provide a solution, and repeated the suggestion that Convenors should take the lead on this. Another ex-Convenor also raised the possibility of aggressively scaling courses that require action.

ACTION: Convenors to investigate the relevant courses.