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8:42pm on Tuesday, 10th May, 2011:

63 Forms


Today, I undertook seven final-year project PDOs.

"PDO" is apparently an acronym new for this year: it means "Project Demonstration Oral". It involves one student and two academics. Basically, the student presents their work, attempts to demonstrate it while under the effects of two overlapping demonstration-nullification fields (one of them couldn't even get Firefox to start) and then we pump them with questions until we find one they can't answer, whereupon we take notes while shaking our heads.

In the past, we had a form to fill in to record our marks. It had guidelines in case the examiners wanted to calculate their marks from first principles, but these could be ignored or overridden. Most of the time, they were ignored: we just decided "that was 2/1 level" and that was that. If it was borderline, we'd fill in the mark scheme and see which side of the border they fell, then probably give them the higher mark anyway. In theory, if we disagreed we'd also do that, but I've yet to be at an oral where the lecturers disagreed to any great extent.

We could have done the same today, too, if we'd been allowed. It was obvious what everyone would get. However, this time we had to fill in more than one form. This time, we had to fill in three forms: one for the supervisor, one for the second assessor, and one for the consolidated mark. We had to do this three times: for their PDO, their written report and their logbook (previously, these were all on the same form). So that's nine forms per student we had to fill in. As I said, I did seven PDOs today. That's 63 forms.

63 forms!

The end results were, not entirely unexpectedly, exactly in line with what was obvious anyway. As markers, we didn't confer, we just wrote our marks down, showed them, and they were within 5 pretty well every time. Except then we had to transfer these marks to the 63 forms for some stressed administrator to add to some database. Oh, and to add a little extra frisson, the logbook form had a faulty totalling-calculation on it so people who should have been getting 65 were getting 31.2 or something stupid. A repaired form was sent out this morning, but I didn't use it; the database can do the totalling instead. I would have used the revised form, except for feedback.

Ah, feedback! We lecturers write all over the reports we get from students. Mine are a mass of red ink. If the students ever get to see their reports, they'll have more feedback than they know what to do with. I don't know that they do get to see them, though; I seem to recall being told that reports had to sit in a vault somewhere in case the student were to appeal their mark. Anyway, even if they do get to see their reports, it doesn't count as feedback because it's not marked "feedback". Students get feedback all the time, but rarely seem to remember this unless it has a label on it saying "feedback". So, in order to make sure that the students understand that the feedback they are getting really is feedback, we have to fill in a special section on our consolidation forms called "feedback". This means the students may be dimly aware that they have received feedback when it comes to the "do you receive feedback?" question on the questionnaires they're sent by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education; as a result of our persistent hammering on about giving feedback, we can therefore climb higher up the university league tables than those sucker universities that don't label their feedback as feedback.

Anyway, for final-year projects, "feedback" consists of a blank section in each of the marking categories on each of the consolidation forms — ten pieces of feedback per student (two sets of three and one set of four). These blank sections have to be filled in by the student's supervisor. It's a good idea to write feedback as soon as you can, while the work is still fresh in your mind; I therefore wrote mine as soon as I'd read the report and the logbook (I couldn't write it for the PDO until the students had delivered it). The remarks are fairly anodyne — just a couple of sentences — but of course they're going to be if I have to write seven sets of them. However, having spread the workload by writing feedback for the report and the logbook earlier, that meant that the arrival of a corrected form for the logbook would entail my having to cut and paste all the feedback from the old forms to the new ones.

It's amusing to think that the module supervisor ever thought that was going to happen.

There aren't many members of staff who think it's a good idea to have nine forms for each student at this point, so I expect it will change next year. I suspect the forms are some requirement added in order that they can be used for auditing purposes should the British Computer Society, the Institute of Engineering and Technology, the external examiners, or quite possibly all three, wish to check up on our procedures. OK, well I don't mind filling in nine forms so long as the people who want me to fill them in read every single one of them. If they don't, it's unnecessary bureaucracy and a waste of my time.

I'd tell you what the students got, but we're not allowed to (for reasons of "if I know I've failed then what's the point of paying the university those outstanding fees I owe?").

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Copyright © 2011 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).