MDX Computer Science team wins Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence

18/10/2019
Every student's need addressed with innovative online assessment tool, flexible learning spaces and industry talks

MDX Computer Science academics accepted a prestigious Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence (CATE) from sector leadership and learning enhancement organisation Advance HE at an event in Manchester this week.

The award was for MDX’s first year undergraduate Computer Science teaching programme: an innovative approach to working with a mixed ability student cohort, underpinned by an online tool to support assessment through Student Observable Behaviours (SOBs), feedback and analytics.

The project emerged following a review of the undergraduate Computer Science programme in 2011 to address poor progression from Year One to Year Two among a highly diverse body of students and amid increasing employer demand from for skilled coders. Eight MDX staff - Dr Bob Fields, Professor Martin Loomes, Professor Franco Raimondi, Ed Currie, Dr Kelly Androutsopoulos, Leonidas Aristodemou, Michael Heeney, and Dr Jaap Boender – formed the core team.

The programme uses a “flipped learning model”. Pupils are given all learning materials at the start of each 8 week teaching block, with the responsibility of making progress at their own initiative. Classroom time is used to deepen understanding of topics through discussion with peers and problem-solving activities. The SOBs are at three levels (threshold, typical and excellent) and cover all foundation topics in Computer Science. They can be measured by academic staff in different settings including labs, group sessions, presentations and one-to-one tutorials.

The teaching materials themselves are created as a team using collaborative software GIT, which automatically merges changes and additions. Students are also given an exercise book, with theory, examples and questions; and a guide explaining how to demonstrate the SOBs. Strong students can work on their own projects, whilst weaker students can catch up at their own pace over the course of the year. All assessment occurs continuously throughout the year, without a final exam; all learning spaces in the newly-constructed Ritterman building are designed to be collaborative and flexible; and relevant and engaging industry figures come and speak to students.

The SOBs approach gives staff flexibility to teach in the way they want to, avoids a heavy marking period at the end of the teaching year, and while it takes some getting used to, seems to be liked by students. The SOBtool is now being used by other programmes, currently supporting more than 1000 students.

CEO of AdvanceHE Alison Johns said the CATEs and the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme winners, announced the same day “[create] ambassadors for innovative and impactful teaching who are valued by institutions and colleagues, and who can set in motion change and enhancements to make a really positive impact on student experience and outcomes across their institution and beyond”.

Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of Science and Technology Sean Wellington said: “We are thrilled that the hard work and commitment of the Computer Science team have been recognised by a Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence. This is a prestigious national award and I am very proud of everyone who has contributed to this work”.

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