Projects and group work

Projects and group work

by Academy Admin

The section highlights examples of best practice related to projects and how group work is facilitated.

The conduct of the final project. An excellent brochure of past projects had been produced and was distributed to all students at the end of the second year, to inspire them about potential areas for projects. It was also used in recruitment and marketing. First and second year students, as well as industrial partners, were encouraged to attend final year poster presentations to see what had been achieved by final year students. The school felt that this was especially effective with first year students, showing them what they might aspire to – Bangor University 2016

Final year dissertation projects fall broadly into research interest of the available supervisors.  Students are asked to select one of these areas towards the end of the spring semester of their second year.  Previously, students picked from among vague titles or field statements.  For the 2015/16 academic year, the School rethought this process.  Supervisors were asked to provide a few short paragraphs to describe their preferred areas instead of full project titles.  The school produced mini-posters from these descriptions featuring project starting points, suggested research topics, and any applicable special considerations.  The posters published in a booklet along with a companion website, through which students make their selections.  We aimed to provide students with enough information to develop their individual project within the chosen theme.  A side benefit is that students have the option to start their investigations in the summer vacation before starting their third year.   This booklet is also used for external marketing on School open days, giving prospective students a realistic idea of the range of topics available should they attend. 

As part of the final year project, students are required to produce a conference-like poster and present it to examiners, industry, and peers.  The school calls this event the ‘Final Year Poster and Careers Expo'.  We invite industry partners to attend and exhibit, demonstrating local graduate opportunities once the students graduate.  We also encourage students to prepare a graduate CV to exhibit alongside their work.  Industry representatives are then able to leave with CVs of students they are interested in potentially employing. We also encourage first and 2nd-year students to attend for them to get a sense of where their degree journey will lead.  First year 'Professional Perspectives' (the level 4 soft-skills module) were required to attend as part of their feedback and reflective practice learning outcomes.  The students have reacted favourably to the new arrangements.  The School is proud to note that the 2016 Expo resulted in 10-15 interview opportunities and three permanent positions with our industrial partner companies.

Development of an e-journal created for MSc Dissertations – Oxford Brookes University 2014 

eScholar:  An online journal by the students for the students. 

eScholar is an online journal focused on publishing papers of postgraduate students produced as part of their dissertation within the department of Computing and Communication Technologies to facilitate the dissemination of the best student scholarship within the department.  This journal offers students new opportunities to students to share their work with their peers. 

eScholar is edited and run by the postgraduate students.  In order to get their papers published; postgraduate students submit their papers to eScholar following strict editorial guidelines; all papers are then carefully evaluated by our research student reviewers. 

It is hoped that eScholar will help to promote postgraduate students’ research interest in Computing and Communication Technologies and to develop their academic writing skills, furthermore to strengthen the collaborations in learning between students on taught postgraduate courses and research activities within the department.

Facilitation and support for the development of team working skills based on SCRUM – Oxford Brookes University 2014 

The Department of Computing & Communication Technologies at Oxford Brookes University offers an introductory undergraduate module on the application of computers to business that also aims to teach a set of professional skills, including the ability to work in teams. Scrum has been adopted within the module, as an example of an Agile method, providing “a framework within which people can address complex adaptive problems, while productively and creatively delivering products of the highest possible value” (www.scrumguides.org/scrum-guides.html). Emphasis is placed on incremental delivery, and tasks are allocated to team members at the start of each ‘sprint’ – where the next increment is developed. A product backlog of tasks to be done is maintained throughout a project, and planning a sprint must include the prioritization, effort-estimation and allocation of tasks to developers. The framework defines a team-based approach in which self-organizing teams determine the best way in which to accomplish the goals of a project. Teams are cross-functional and, although individual expertise is acknowledged, accountability rests with the team. ‘Developer’ is the only role within a Scrum development team. 

While planning the project for the students, several issues have to be considered. All students taking the module have taken a one-semester module in Python programming, and it was decided that the final product would be a serious game, developed in PyGame (www.pygame.org). It was clear that the randomly allocated teams would have a variety of skills and levels of expertise, and that each team would need to build and share such expertise in a variety of subjects, including Scrum itself. Students would be assessed individually, based on their contribution to the team and their understanding of the Agile method. 

The module used the concept of a ‘learning team’ to guide students to research and develop the skills needed to make an effective contribution to the project. Team members are required to maintain their own personal logbook, describing tasks allocated at sprint planning meetings, estimated and actual effort, and the achieved results that have been discussed at sprint reviews. Logbooks are also used for individual reflection on the work done, and the reviews given by the team. Each team submit their meeting minutes (sprint plans and reviews), which act as a reference document for the individual student logbooks. 

Each student is assessed on their effort, as measured by their own system, adapted according to the review minutes. The assessment relies on tutors continually monitoring the progress of teams through the sprint reviews. This prevents teams from conspiring to exaggerate the effort estimated for tasks, and ensures that individuals are sufficiently engaged in the process. In particular, tutors encourage the use of teaching and presentation tasks by individual students to address particular skills gaps that might otherwise have prevented them from making effective contributions. 

Student feedback on the exercise is very positive, particularly in terms of their engagement with the learning involved

The use of GWizards to give students experience of working on real projects – University of Greenwich 2014 

A major issue in current Higher Education practice is the development of employability skills within the graduate community. Many projects have been developed looking at academic-employer engagement, internship schemes, and various placement models, all of which have had some beneficial effect. 

The University of Greenwich Department of Computing and Information Systems has developed a vehicle called GWizards which seeks to re-engage the university with the local community. This involves working directly with all types of organisation to identify project activities of mutual benefit. This mutual benefit is determined by opportunities for students to gain experience in the workplace, organisations to gain practical technical help from students either on a paid or voluntary basis, and academic staff to gain project experience and publishing opportunities. Students typically undertake work in their spare time or, as a final year or masters project however, to facilitate this process the department has also developed credit bearing modules on its programmes that link to these employability opportunities, so students have the chance to follow directly relevant project work within their academic studies and to earn academic credits for practical work. 

Organisations such as charities and not-for-profit organisations gain practical technical help for little or no cost. Recent examples of student activity in this area include the design of interactive websites, mobile app development and database/web services implementation. Commercial organisations can benefit from the talents of our bright, innovative students by providing real world problems for final year and master level projects and dissertations. For example, in this area, undergraduates have undertaken ‘proof of concept’ projects relating to NoSQL developments Node.js versus Java applications and the use of responsive web design frameworks. 

This initiative has been extremely successful and has already been extended to students from other disciplines. The initial structure and development was focussed on developing relationships with local organisations and opportunities for student work however, the initiative is now being taken forward and developed to engage students in the management and control of these activities both internally and externally to the university within a student-run “company structure”. This approach will implement a standard enterprise structure, run by a student executive board responsible for hiring and firing student employees and all enterprise operational activities, and will take on internal and external contracts on a professional basis. The rationale for this approach is to support the development of other types of professional skills valued by employers. There is an additional strategy to support the development of weaker students who may not be considered suitable as being lead developers / in the front line and that is to develop their skills behind the scenes doing e.g. undertaking software testing, with the expectation that, after some experience, they will have the ability and CV to apply for lead developer roles in future projects. 

Students who have worked within the GWizards environment have acquired new technical and project management skills. Further to this, they have enhanced the ‘soft skills’ so important to the business world. Feedback from all the organisations we have worked with has been very positive with business/student engagement reported as a rewarding experience. 

The information related to these activities will be reported and recorded in an active portfolio, maintained electronically by the student, who will also take the responsibility to collect evidence of their activities, in terms of customer report and feedback, prototype or service development reports, and academic supervisor feedback. This active portfolio provides the fundamental information for a technically detailed CV, describing the students’ knowledge and experience in terms of employability skills, while also providing the academic evidence necessary for the application of credits towards degree study. 

The financial support and encouragement given to undergraduate students to enable them to attend conferences and training events. 

The department has been supporting and encouraging students with several activities: 

BEAMS – The Bedfordshire Enterprise and Mainframe Society is a group of students who are dedicated to learn about mainframe technologies in their free time. It was created in 2012 and enjoys strong departmental support. The aim of the society is to supply students interested in the Mainframe technologies with the materials as well hands on experience. Some of the services include guest lectures on desired topics, opportunities to network with speakers and meet other successful people from the mainframe community, raise awareness of the Mainframe platform and increase opportunities for students in a Mainframe world to make good careers choices. The society is taking part in various events such as the GSE (Guide Share Europe) UK conference, the GSE 101 working group and is constantly looking for more. To this end the department has paid all transport costs for students to attend GSE events in the past, and has also helped with financial contribution to the GSE101 event held at the University of Bedfordshire (16 May 2013 with 50 attendees comprising of university students and new entrants/trainees/apprentices for companies such as Barclays, BT, TNT, etc; please see the ’UK Region’ announcement at http://www.gse.org/ABOUTGSE/GSEUniversityProgramme/tabid/4023/Default.aspx). The department is paying to provide buses to the next GSE meeting in Bromsgrove.

Further information is available at:

https://www.facebook.com/beams.uob   (Facebook fan page)
https://www.facebook.com/groups/beams.uob/    (Facebook group page)

A Web page is currently under construction. We can provide the URL once the page is finished. 

UoBMore –http://www.uobmore.co.uk/ is an initiative by students for students. The goal is to break down complicated topics on the one hand and also to introduce students to popular concepts in the outside world that may not be covered in lectures on the other hand. Within UoBMore, interactive and informal seminars that cover a range of interesting and important topics are held by students with lecturer support. These seminars are free and are available for everybody in the university.

Aside from these activities the university supports further student competitions to bring together students and employers.  An example is the Axis Electronics Competition that took place in 2013, where students were asked to work on electronic engineering and IT related projects and were awarded a prize sponsored by Axis Electronics. Furthermore, students are encouraged to submit their relevant project work to national and international conferences and workshops. For example, a paper with a strong student contribution and co-authorship has been submitted to the ACM/IEEE International Digital Libraries Conference 2014 in London (http://www.dl2014.org/). 

The use of project support groups to help support final year project work – University of Ulster 2013

One of the stated aims of the final year Computing Project module (30 credits) is to foster a cooperative environment for exchange of ideas amongst students at the early stages of project development. While retaining the principle of the project being an individual piece of work, this aim is achieved through the operation of Project Support Groups. This arrangement has been in place for a number of years within the department; it originally arose from the observation that, for some students, undertaking their final year project can be a 'lonely' experience. However, the scheme as it now operates has developed from this and the groups allow students to offer constructive criticism and support to their peers on the content and progress of their project work.

The Project Support Groups are established during weeks 1-2 of semester 1. Students are allocated to a group, normally consisting of 5-7 students. The groups meet on a weekly basis during semester 1 and are guided on suggested topics for discussion by the Project Module Coordinator. Each week minutes of the groups' meetings are sent to the Project Coordinator.

Over the semester, each student is required to keep informed on the project content and progress of the other members of his/her group, and students are issued with guidelines as to their responsibilities in this matter. They are also asked to critically assess and advise their peers on the strengths, weakness, risks and opportunities of individual projects, especially where the projects relate to their own work or the work of others in the cohort. For example, the weekly meeting can be a forum to exchange information on relevant matters such as useful software or other internet resources.

Within the group students can raise for discussion any matter of concern regarding the Project Module or indeed the course in general where it relates to their project work (e.g. coverage of relevant project topics in lectures). The group is expected to resolve any queries internally and document this as such in the minutes. Where an issue cannot be resolved within the group (e.g. access to software) the matter is brought to the attention of the Project Coordinator.

Towards the end of semester 1, as part of a student's individual assessment, each student delivers a presentation to their project support group plus members of staff, summarizing their work to date. It is common practice for students to self-organize their support groups in advance of this whereby they deliver practice presentations to each other.

Overall, student feedback on the Project Support Groups has been positive. As ‘assessees’, students benefit from the critical appraisal and support of colleagues; as ‘assessors’, students gain insight into projects other than their own and have responsibility for constructive comment on colleagues’ work. The Project Support Groups mitigate, in the early stages of the project, the potential for student isolation and student apprehension at the perceived scale of the project task. It is a timely and valuable ‘learning group’ experience which can help them through the stresses of the final year experience.

The existence of a 10 credit Software Workshop Team Java (06-08165) module at Level 5 – University of Birmingham 2013

The existence of a 10 credit Software Workshop Team Java (06-08165) module at Level 5 (2nd year) which is a large programming project using Java for which students work in teams of about five people. 

In recent years, the students have been required to implement a computer game inspired by an existing game chosen by the lecturer (last year Settlers of Catan, this year Pandemic). The aims of the module are to provide experience of building a piece of software that is larger and more complex than is usually done in the first year software workshops, to integrate knowledge from other modules, and (above all) to provide experience of working in a programming team. The team formation is based on the students' first year software workshop mark. In the past, this was done so that all the teams had approximately the same average mark, which meant that students with very good programming skills were mixed with those with poor programming skills. In this regime, weaker students should have a good chance to learn from stronger students. In practice, however, this approach led to severe problems in many teams, since the weaker students had often not used this opportunity and were not as active as they should have been. For the second year now, we have used a new selection process for the team members, again based on the first year workshop marks, creating teams made up of students with roughly equal programming skills. As a consequence, strong programmers can really show what they can do, and weak programmers understand that they have to do serious work in order succeed in the module. This has resulted in the large majority of students being very committed to their team project, and the failure rate has been significantly lowered.

The assessment of the module is 100% continuous and subdivided into several components. In week 1, the students get all the taught material and the task is set. By the end of week 3, each team has to agree on the actual game that they want to implement and each student has to submit individually a project proposal (also to check for consistency of their proposals). This is worth 10% of the module mark. Furthermore, they have to submit individually every week (weeks 2 through 9) a progress report on the work they did, worth 1% of the module mark each, that is, 9% altogether. These 19% are given individually for each student, the remaining 81% are based on the team work: 10% for the prototype presentation in week 6, 61% for the submission of the Code, Report, and Test Report in week 10, and finally 10% for the group presentation in week 11.

For around two thirds to three quarters of the students, we have indication that they contribute equally to the effort of their teams. For the remaining quarter to a third of students, there is some evidence that they do not, either by feedback from their tutors (whom they meet on a weekly basis), from their self-assessment, from progress logs, from svn logs, or from attendance to meetings. In these cases, the corresponding team (or rarely, when it is clear that the problem was with an individual on the team, just that student) is vivaed in order to determine the relative contribution of the individuals.

For the last few years, this module has participated in the IBM University Team Challenge, and Mark Farmer from IBM has been closely involved in the module. He has given presentations on the importance of team work in his professional career, and he also has chosen a winning team each year. This has made the module even more attractive for many students and it is very impressive to see in how short a time most teams build high quality games, do excellent team work, and apply the material they have learnt in other modules very professionally.

The official module description is available at: http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/internal/module-catalogue/2012/08165/  

In addition, the module is supported by a webpage containing a more detailed syllabus, handouts and lecture notes at: http://www.cs.bham.ac.uk/internal/courses/team-java/current/

Year 3 Group Projects and the practice of obtaining feedback from industrial judges – University of Johannesburg 2013

The Academy requires students to complete a practical group project on level 3. At the beginning of the year 3 group project the teams have the option to decide on a project topic of their own choice. Therefore students are free to explore and solve different problems in various industries. The year 3 group projects aim to provide students with the opportunity to gain theoretical as well as practical knowledge in the field of Software Engineering. In order to accomplish this goal, students form teams of four and are asked to approach what the Academy deems to be a project sponsor. The role of the project sponsor is to provide the students with a real world problem to be solved. It is of great importance that the year projects developed are industry-oriented and solve a real world problem. The project mentors (lecturers, carefully chosen senior masters and PhD students of the Academy) are each assigned 3 to 4 project teams to supervise. The project mentors play a pivotal role in the development of the students. Students are expected to arrange regular meetings with project mentors. Regular feedback sessions and close monitoring by project mentors ensures that students are able to complete the project deliverables successfully and on schedule. All the teams are constantly monitored and supervised through-out the year by the project mentor and the third year project coordinator. The year project is divided into 2 sections, namely, first semester and second semester. 

In the first semester the emphasis is on the analysis, design and planning of the software being developed. In this semester the teams will produce two design deliverables/milestones. The third year project coordinator then moderates a selected number of marked deliverables for each project mentor to ensure that all the deliverables were assessed consistently and/or fairly by all the different project mentors i.e. to ensure that all the teams were marked on the same level. The report template used for moderation can be found here http://eve.uj.ac.za/BCS/ModerationTemplate.pdf.

In the second semester each team project gets evaluated individually, and each team member must take part in the evaluation process. The evaluations take place three times during the semester namely at the alpha, beta and final stages of development. A presentation on the aims of the project and a live demonstration of the system must be performed at each evaluation. During each of the project evaluations an external examiner from an industry IT company and/or academic institution joins the project mentors and gives valued input on the allocation of marks and suggests improvements that could be made before the completion of the project. The mark sheets used to assess the project deliverables can be found here http://eve.uj.ac.za/BCS/Marksheets.pdf.  

It should be noted that as a mark is given to the team and a number of students are included in each team, provision has to be made to allocate marks to each student in a fair way. To facilitate this process the students must perform a peer review after each deliverable that is due. Also, at the end of the year/project the third year project coordinator sets up a project and project mentor evaluation where each student is expected to provide feedback regarding their project mentor and the third year project. The evaluations are used as a way to identify any problem areas with the projects and/or project mentors.

At the end of the year the Academy of Computer Science and Software Engineering has its annual projects day, where the undergraduate level 3 group projects and postgraduate projects are exhibited. The projects day is also attended by a wide range of representatives from the IT industry, and feedback is received which is acted on, if necessary. The projects exhibited on the day are also judged by a panel of judges from industry who provide thorough feedback on the projects. The judging takes place in 3 rounds. In the first round all the teams are seen by a minimum of four judges and a score is allocated according to the following criteria in http://eve.uj.ac.za/BCS/PD_Judging_Criteria.pdf. A judge allocates a score to each criteria which is multiplied by a predetermined weight (which is not known by the judges). The weights are determined as follows:  Each project mentor assigns a weight, based on what he/she thinks is most important, to each criteria such that the total of all the weights add up to a 100. The project coordinator then takes the average, per criteria, of all the weights. The 14 teams with the highest scores go through to the second round. In the second round all the teams are again seen by a minimum of 8 judges and the top 7 go through to the final round. In the final round the same procedure is followed and each team is seen by a minimum of 12 judges. However, there is an hour allocated at the end of the final round to allow the judges to discuss the final round results. This allows judges to voice their opinion and/or disagreement with regards to the top 3 chosen projects. Another round of judging may take place in cases where several judges do not agree with the placing of the top 3 projects. The judges are asked to submit a report on the quality of the projects exhibited on the day and the projects day itself. Lastly, in 2013 members of the IT industry will be invited to provide feedback on the projects at an earlier stage. This will allow industry members to have input into the software systems being developed earlier in the project. In conclusion the process discussed above allows for a panel of 40 to 50 judges, from various IT companies in South Africa, to provide feedback on the quality of the projects as well as on the curricula of the Academy on a regular basis.

The detailed nature of project marking dealing with the differentiation of examining expertise in the subject area – University of Oxford 2013

For the MSc in Computer Science, the following procedure for marking projects is used.

Each project dissertation will be read by at least two assessors, including at least one Examiner, but excluding the supervisor. Each assessor will write a brief report on the dissertation, including comments on context, contribution, competence, criticism and clarity. The assessors are asked to give a mark based on the above criteria. The final USM will usually be computed as an average, weighted by the assessors' expertise in the project area. Assessors are asked to state whether they consider themselves to be an expert in the field of the dissertation (weighted 3), knowledgeable (weighed 2) or an informed outsider (weighted 1).

Small differences in marks can also be reconciled by discussion between the assessors. If there is a difference of more than ten marks, a third assessor will be asked to mark the project. A third reader will also be appointed if the project marks straddle either of the thresholds of 50 USMs and 70 USMs.

Examiners also receive a report from the project supervisor that is intended to provide them with information about the nature of the student's contribution to the project, the quality of any program that results from the project, and other factors that may not be apparent from the dissertation itself.

In coming to their judgement of the overall quality of a project and the final USM, Examiners may take into account all the above information and, if appropriate, moderate their marks.

The Kent IT Clinic provided the opportunity to deliver projects using a real-life environment via a commercial off-shoot - University of Kent 2012

The Kent IT Clinic (KITC), founded in October 2004, is part of the University of Kent's School of Computing, situated at both Canterbury and Medway sites. It is a not-for-profit organisation providing a project-based consultancy service to small businesses in Kent.  

The KITC is unique as it is run by IT consultants who are students at the University of Kent. Many of the consultants have completed industrial placements for major companies such as Intel, IBM and Microsoft, giving them significant experience in both Business and Technical roles. The relationships between the KITC consultants and their clients are managed by full time IT professionals and are closely mentored by academic staff members of the School.

The KITC is part of the Medway Fair Trader Scheme and was shortlisted for the Computing Awards for Excellence in 2008. The KITC also achieved the Technology Enterprise award in Kent. IBM UK has been a strong supporter of the KITC since inception, precisely because of the skill set it imparts to students.

All degree programmes in the School offer the opportunity to gain work experience as a student with the KITC.  Student consultants gain academic credit for the work they do, which counts towards their degree.

Further information is available at:  http://www.kitclinic.com/