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Supporting students

How successfully are students engaging with the Python component of SM123?

Project leader(s): 
Gemma Warriner
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

Retention on SM123 is lower than on other level 1 STEM modules. One issue that students face is getting to grips with some simple programming, with four weeks of the year dedicated to the study of Python. Learning to think in a logical way and to code may be very different from other study that students have done previously and the way that the Python content is delivered needs to account for that.

It is apparent from forums and SEaM comments that many students are daunted by Python and some do not make good progress in learning. This may include students that score well in other aspects of the module.

The aim of the project is to investigate student engagement with and attitude towards the Python programming in SM123, and the resources available to help them. This will be done primarily by use of a student questionnaire, attempting to identify any barriers that may prevent such students fully undertaking this aspect of SM123. As part of the analysis there will be focus on students that are new to coding.

This project will provide SPS and the SM123 MT with data that will lead to a better understanding of how students are engaging with Python. This will inform decisions on any changes that could be made with the presentation of Python in SM123 and other SPS modules that present Python.

If we can optimally tailor the delivery of Python for SM123 students, so that they find it a rewarding experience and can have success in this area, more students will be able to progress to level 2 and 3 and feel confident tackling Python at a higher level.

Gemma Warriner and Andy Diament poster (PDF)

Evaluation of Assessment and Tuition Changes for S284 Astronomy

Project leader(s): 
Mark Jones and Helen Fraser
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

Astronomy is a subject area with broad appeal, being a topic of interest both for students intending to specialise in astrophysics and for those who simply wish to know more about our place in the Universe. This has presented challenges to previous modules in astronomy, resulting in low retention, completion and pass rates (even compared to STEM Faculty averages), even though student SeAM survey results typically have 95 – 97 % satisfaction ratings!

S284 has been designed from the outset not only to be accessible to students from a wide range of backgrounds, but also to be more engaging and student focussed. The main areas of innovation in the module are:

  1. an assessment strategy that combines “short but often” continuous assessment with a purely on-line examination,
  2. a tutorial strategy that shifts the emphasis back towards active learning and focussed on student needs, and
  3. a greater emphasis on building the student-tutor relationship (e.g. through telephone conversations).

We will analyse the effect of these innovations on student success by examining analytic data. This is unlikely to be sufficient to provide a deep understanding of the effect of our innovations, so we propose to probe both the AL and student experiences of these changes.  

In the first phase of the project (the 2020J presentation & this proposal) we will use focus-group methods to draw out AL reflections on their teaching practices. Student analytic data will be used to develop an understanding of how the student cohort responded to innovation in tuition.   

Student experience will be explored in more depth in a second phase (2021J presentation) in which we will work with LDS to implement an immediate “feedback” system which would interrogate their feelings about ‘tutorial’ elements of online learning. These personal experiences would be combined with detailed SAS analytics data (from the A4A team) to develop a deep understanding of the student experience on the module.

Ultimately a successful outcome would be improved retention, completion and pass rates on S284 as compared to S282, coupled with overall higher AL and student satisfaction.  

Mark Jones and Helen Fraser poster (PDF)

Using Bitesize Videos to Enhance Students’ Experiences in a Level 2 Programming Module

Project leader(s): 
Soraya Kouadri Mostéfaoui, Marina Carter and Mark Hall
Faculty: 
STEM
Status: 
Current
Body: 

TT284 is a popular level 2 Web technologies module attracting over 1000 students in each presentation. TT284 does not cover any programming language or paradigm in a broad sense but focuses upon elements required to gain practical experience developing web and mobile applications including PHP, JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3 and SVN.  Not only is it important for students to understand how these elements work, but also to understand how they all fit together. Due to the lack of previous programming and problem-solving experiences (given the lack of pure programming modules at level 1) students find the module very challenging and have difficulties to understand how the different elements interact. This results in loss of confidence, poor engagement and low satisfaction and retention.

Our focus in this project is to investigate the provision of bitesize videos to introduce key concepts and explain how they fit together in order to help students visualise the interactions. This draws on the premise that students don’t all learn programming in the same way, and some need a visual component in order to understand the interactions between the different web technologies. Additionally, we will investigate whether such a visual approach may benefit students with disabilities such as dyslexic students who struggle reading long portions of code.  

The aim is to provide a series of  bite-size  videos and module wide programming support sessions for the TT284-2020J presentation, with the potential to generalise this to the remaining presentations, the TT284 replacement module and other programming modules (an example of such a bitesize video can be found here). We will also analyse the impact of such provision on the students’ experiences with the module.

This proposed project builds on a small-scale pilot study in the TT284-2017J presentation that we have conducted. The initial findings are: 66% of the respondents (students) to the survey said the bitesize videos helped them engage more with programming and feel more confident; and 75% recommended the use of such videos in other programming modules.  The videos have proved to be particularly helpful for dyslexic students, one student described the videos as ‘a life saver’’.

There has also been an impact on students’ engagement with programming and subsequently better performance (77% on average on the TMA programming questions) as well as an improved retention. The project aims at generalising the small-scale pilot study to the whole module for the 2020J presentation. 

Soraya Kouadri Mostéfaoui, Marina Carter and Mark Hall poster (PDF)