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Day Workshop, 14th November 2018
Computational Foundry, Swansea University
How do we radically re-imagine the undergraduate final year and masters dissertation projects in the face of a changing higher education landscape?
Student research projects are the capstone of most computer science undergraduate and masters programs. They demonstrate students' ability to apply knowledge in a real problem and act as a major marker for future employers and those wishing to pursue further studies such as PhDs. Furthermore, the student project is a key way in which fundamental academic research creates impact in education, the future workforce, and industry.
However, the traditional one-to-one model of project supervision is challenged in the face of changes of scale and types of delivery.
In the UK, Computer Science has seen the greatest growth in undergraduate numbers of any subject areas over recent years [*]. This growth is good news for the discipline, but creates challenges to our established ways of working. Furthermore, these year-on-year changes in the sector as a whole are magnified and made increasingly unstable by changes in fees and student number caps. Some computing departments have seen a doubling or trebling of student numbers, others have seen a drop. Of course where numbers have gone up they may also go down, so it is rare for Universities to approve staff increases to completely match increased student numbers.
Added to this, there are increased pressures for academics to demonstrate outputs against multiple targets: research, economic impact, public engagement; and undergraduate and masters programmes are often being redesigned to enable more flexible learning including degree apprenticeships, undergraduates who are holding down jobs as they study, and remote learning.
This workshop offered a forum to pool ideas and share experiences in the way we deal with projects. Some have already experimented with group supervision models, others have ideas to develop multi-year projects or to separate the project management side of the project from the detailed academic supervision of the problem area. It was also an opportunity to discuss political and contextual issues such as selling non-standard models to staff, how to retain employability benefits of the final project whist changing format, and dealing with BCS accreditation
It was an opportunity to be speculative, but also to explore practical solutions to immediate problems faced by many across the sector. Together we re-imagined the future of the student research project.