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Educational Initiatives in Computing Science at Glasgow

Quintin Cutts,   Department of Computing Science,
Rebecca Mancy,   Faculty of Education,
& Steve Draper,   Department of Psychology,
  University of Glasgow.

Submitted to the 2003 Galway conference of the information and computer sciences LTSN.

ToDo: broken URL to Rebecca's home page, and page on her work; Quintin's exam page.


This poster outlines a number of initiatives at Glasgow University for enhancing computer science education. These are: automated recording and detection of student behaviour, interactive lecture theatre technology, practical programming examinations, peer assisted learning, a student records portal, the cognitive psychology of programming, and a search for predictors of success in introductory programming.

As in many universities, there is an undesirably high failure rate in the introductory computer science courses at Glasgow, particularly associated with programming. A succession of projects here have searched for causes and predictive markers for failure in this course, partly by testing for correlations between eventual outcomes and numerous candidate factors such as entry criteria, study habits and student integration.

The Grumps project offers software that can also be used for this search. The software records generic usage data (e.g. mouse activity and typing) and has been deployed in the first year programming environment. Recording generic data allows an iterative approach to data-mining investigations in a higher education environment where researchers are limited to yearly collection. Current investigations concentrate on predicting levels of success in programming by looking at student persistence, typing and set-up speeds. This non-invasive approach has uncovered a correlation between application switching and the students' eventual grade.

Other work is investigating deeper cognitive factors from an educational and psychological standpoint, exploring links to areas such as mathematics and language learning.

A third strand of our work seeks ways to increase student engagement. We have been developing the use of infra-red handsets in large lectures (cf. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?) to promote interactivity and hence engagement. We are extending the software to support a larger range of interaction techniques, as well as to make response data available to lecturers and students outside the lecture.

Additionally, a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) scheme was introduced in 2002, in which second year undergraduates fill the role of facilitator and mentor at meetings of first year students. A particular aim is to support the transition from school-style study habits to those required in the first year at university, increasingly important as university participation widens. The first year of this scheme has been evaluated and a report will shortly be available.

Two further initiatives are of note. Formal laboratory examinations are a way to sidestep the problems of plagiarism in continually-assessed coursework exercises. We have developed an exam that is reliable even when the class size is much greater than the number of laboratory machines. It complements a traditional written exam by thoroughly assessing syntactic rigour and debugging skills in the usual programming environment.

The Lab Support System (LSS) is a portal to student records, available to both staff via wireless PDAs and students on laboratory machines. It both mediates the queue of help requests (replacing students holding up their hands) and provides the circulating tutors with instant reminders about the students from their records.


The many other major participants in these projects can be found through the URLs.

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