As promised a detailed report on the survey we launched after the end of week 1. We will run a further survey later during the term to see how you are feeling after a few weeks.
Only 13 students out ~40 participated in the survey. This is a bit disappointing, especially as we can only enact changes based on the feedback we get.
Let’s start with some of the things that are not quite working.
Something that is coming quite often is how tightly packed week 1 is. Indeed, the videos, the labs and the exercises have a lot of overlap and it seemed a lot to initially catch on. We have designed videos and exercise sheets to be in sync on a weekly basis and the labs to follow one week later. Week 1 is the exception. We expected the students to have an easier time with the first lab than they had. In retrospect, if/when we run the unit again we would probably not run the first lab or arrange the schedule differently. This is something we will consider carefully for next year.
A second topic that came a few time is the audio quality of some of the videos. We acknowledge that there either a computer fan noise or the noise canceller make hearing what is said difficult. We think the audio quality in the subsequent weeks is a bit better, but still not ideal. We will discuss with the department/university to be given access to better equipment if we need to deliver content in this manner again.
A third thing that seemed to not be quite working is the peer sessions. A few of students reported that their peers did not join the session and the usefulness was therefore limited. Encouraging online engagement is something we are trying to improve, but it eventually falls down to the students to make the effort to be there. We are open to suggestions on how we could make the peer sessions more useful and how to encourage participation.
Some students seem to think the unit is a bit too much work compared to others. “Without the exercise sheet or the extra reading, I feel as though the workload would be similar to that of my other units.” We think a lot of those comments around “workload” are related to the specific issue around week 1, but we will monitor the situation to make sure that is indeed the root cause.
Things that are ok, but could be better.
Some students have suggested that we should make clear which “lecture” videos relate to which labs. This is something easy enough to do and we should be updating the website with this shortly.
In general, the students seem satisfied with the videos (except for the technical issues pointed above), the videos “introduce the higher-level concepts and the practical labs clarify the technical details”. This is what we were aiming for and we are happy that it works. There is some mixed feeling around the length of the video (5 to 30 minutes depending on the topics). Some find them too long. We have tried to divide the lecture content in meaningful chunks, but this may be something that needs to be revised as we gain more experience with online teaching.
Some of the students think that the exercises are a bit too long and overlap too much with the lab. We think, as mentioned earlier, that this is mostly due to the nature of week 1 that did not quite work as anticipated. Exercises are meant to help students internalise the videos content, go a bit further and prepare them for the lab. We will gauge in the next survey if it is working as intended.
Some of the students are asking for answers to the exercise sheets. We were aiming to discuss them during Q&A sessions. We will aim to bring this up more clearly during the next Q&A, if this does not work we will see how to make sure the students get the most out that particular activity.
There are luckily some good things with the unit.
Generally, the students are quite happy with the level of interactivity with both the instructors and the TAs. They generally feel their questions get answered quickly and that they can make good progress. As instructors, we were particularly worried about participation during the Q&A, but it went better than we expected and students engaged and asked many questions.
A lot of students really appreciate the practical nature of the unit. We are really glad and that is what we were aiming for with this unit. The students also appreciate to be listened to and that their feedback is taken into account. This is something we aim to continue to do within the constraints of the curriculum and the university.
While there are some rough edges, given that it is 1) a new unit, 2) under a new method of delivery and 3) under less than ideal circumstances, we think things are going pretty well. A majority of students have engaged well with the unit and seem overall relatively happy. An important thing to monitor is the workload level mid-term. We are also concerned about a group of a dozen students who don’t seem to be engaging with the unit properly.
As promised a detailed report on the survey we launched after the end of week 3. We will run a further survey around week 7 to gather how you felt overall about the teaching part of the unit.
We received 11 response to our survey out of 39 students (as per blackboard so +- some).
Overall students like the lab and Q&A, the videos and the reading material are good, but the peer labs and the exercise sheet not so much. In the next survey, we will separate rating for video and reading material as to understand a bit more precisely what you don’t like.
We had very positive feedback on the labs. The students really enjoy the practical aspects of the unit and we are told that the labs are interesting and challenging. We hope to keep it that way. We are adding videos on common problems with the labs to try to support the students given the covid situation (obviously there is a delay as we need first to gather common problems), we also answer questions during the Q&A and throughout the week on discord. Generally, students feel that if they get stuck they get the help they need relatively quickly.
In the last Q&A recording did not show some of what was being shown during the live stream (i.e. non-browser application). That should hopefully be sorted for the next Q&A. During the Q&A, questions are mostly focused on the labs.
This lead to our next point: the exercise sheet. We would like the students to engage with the exercise sheet during the Q&A session. We are hoping to trigger discussion, but this is not happening. We are asked for correction for the exercises, but we would really like for something more interactive to happen. Some questions are open-ended and similar to what will be found in the exam. We believe that the best way to learn how to answer such questions is to discuss them in “class” (this year during the Q&A). There may be a mismatch of expectation that we need to correct and we need to communicate more clearly what we think should happen.
Students are not convinced by the scheduled peer lab sessions and prefer to work on their own time and organise themselves. This is understandable. We believe that we could do without them or replacing one of the two hours of peer labs by an extra hour of TA supported lab. This is unlikely to happen during TB1, but we will make sure the department is aware.
We have released the coursework format following popular demand. The topic(s) are still under embargo as per instructed by the department so students don’t work on coursework before week 8. We have attempted to strike a balance between group work and individual contributions. We will communicate submission details and deadline once confirmed with the administration.
Finally, while a number of students have engaged very well with the unit and we start to recognise some name on discord. Other students seem to be disengaging. We are concerned and hope they could leverage the opportunity to interact with TAs and lecturers while we are still available.