New projects for me at Heriot-Watt

I’ve been at Heriot-Watt University for many years now but haven’t really had much to do with the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning here. A couple of new projects might change that.

The Learning and Teaching Strategy for the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences mentions using technology to create a more student centred approach to learning, and also reshaping the soft learning environment to meet challenges raised by things like delivering courses across campuses in Edinburgh, Dubai, Malaysia, and with learning partners around the world. So it references ideas like the use of khan-academy style videos where appropriate, effective use of formative assessment and feedback and use of the virtual learning environment to facilitate student interaction and collaboration across those different campuses.

To put this strategy into action the School has set up a working group, which I am convening. The approach will not to be prescriptive and dictatorial, that wouldn’t work; we want to focus on identifying, nurturing and disseminating within the School the existing practice that aligns with those strategic aims. We also want to bring in ideas from outwith the School that can be realised in our contexts, they will have to be practical ideas with demonstrable benefits (I’ll still do explorative researchy things, but through other work). We started work a couple of weeks ago, with two initial tasks: 1, a survey to identify what people are already doing that might be worth sharing and to identify what ideas they would like help progressing; and, 2, an internal show-and-tell event to discuss such ideas. I rather hope that the event isn’t a one-off, that it leads to other similar events, and also that the practice we find through it and the survey can be made open so that we can interact with all the other people doing similar at their own institutions.

Coincidently, I have also been asked to look at automated assessment, especially in exam scenarios in Computer Science. We have run electronic exams in the past, and many staff appreciated the automatic marking, but the system that we used until now is no longer available. So I shall be working with colleagues to try to find a replacement. I haven’t worked much with online assessment before, but I think there are three related but separate strands that will need following: 1, the software system, its functionality and usability; 2, policy issues such as security for high stakes assessment; 3, pedagogic issues. Clearly they are interdependent, for example if your pedagogic considerations lead you to decide that students should have access to the web during exams, then the security issues you need to consider change.  My feeling is that only an off-the-shelf system will be sustainable for us, so I’m looking at commercial and open source systems that have already been developed. However, Computer Science obviously has a very particular relationship with the use of computers in teaching and assessment that may not be exploited by general purpose computer aided assessment.