School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science

EECS Academics Explore how COVID-19 has Changed Computer Science Education

EECS and Queen Mary Academy Academics discuss how the global pandemic has forced lecturers and academics to transform how computer science is taught.

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Professor Steve Uhlig, Professor Yue Chen, Dr Sukhpal Gill and Dr Usman Naeem from the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science and Dr Stephanie Fuller from the Queen Mary Academy have authored an article for BCS, Chartered Institute for IT exploring how the Covid-19 global pandemic has changed how computer science is taught. Discover how they’re using innovative technology and techniques during lectures which may be distributed across the world. 

Read the full article below 

The global pandemic has forced lecturers and academics to transform how computer science is taught. Discover how they’re using innovative technology and techniques during lectures which may be distributed across the world.

‘The flipped classroom model has now become commonplace during the pandemic. During the pandemic, it was paramount to redesign curricula to facilitate online and face-to-face teaching.’

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected both staff and students within higher education. The Advance Higher Education Academy (AHEA) during the pandemic has supported academics in enhancing their pedagogical practices. The AHEA offers a teaching qualification called Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) or PGCert and awards the Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) after successful completion of PGCAP. PGCAP assists academic staff to improve their teaching skills by reflecting on their teaching practice, evaluating their teaching methodology and considering enhancements to their current teaching approach.

UK academics must complete this qualification before being confirmed in post. It comprises four modules, three related to teaching and one focused on actioning research into education. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching a module has become particularly challenging, especially when it has to be done online, and students are scattered across various locations. One particularly challenging aspect of the new way of teaching is to keep students engaged. Therefore, the content of PGCAP must be adapted and changed to fit the new online setup and the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Post-COVID era

It is now more important than ever for PGCAP to support academics to teach students both face-to-face and online, using the latest tools and technologies. In this article, we discuss how PGCAP helps new academics to improve their blended delivery. The pandemic is an opportunity for higher education to reform their current teaching delivery by including online and face-to-face teaching as a part of the curriculum. PGCAP encourages academics to adopt technology-oriented teaching techniques (e.g., gamification) to enhance the delivery of their module via face-to-face and online mediums. Hence during the pandemic, pedagogy has been enhanced by the adoption of the following:

Online teaching platforms and tools

During this pandemic, online teaching platforms have played a crucial role, where content has been delivered using platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and Blackboard Collaborate. In addition, online quizzes (Kahoot or Mentimeter) have also played a key role and have been used at different stages of an online session:

  • Start of a session: to test the prior knowledge of the students and reinforce content from previous sessions.
  • During the session: to test active learning of the students.
  • End of the session: to assess the learning of the students after the delivery of the entire content.

On the other hand, relying on too many unnecessary Mentimeter quizzes can lead to students losing interest. Hence, this should be used with care. The online teaching platforms also facilitated lab exercises and coursework (e.g. coding based group projects). For group projects, this enabled students to interact and engage with each other while making teams despite being in various geographical locations. Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) tools such as online pools on Moodle can be used to perform this function.

Various drop-in sessions were also scheduled to replace on-campus tutorials to solve student’s queries; this gave an opportunity to introverted students to ask questions, typing via the chat facilities available within the mentioned online platforms. The interaction was instant for both the students and the teaching team, but required meticulous planning to facilitate this for classes over 200 students. Solving students’ problems fast helps their confidence as well as improves the satisfaction rate of the teaching module.

New learning methodology

The flipped classroom model has now become commonplace during the pandemic. It has allowed teachers to utilize various resources to improve their teaching practice. This includes (but not limited to): Kahoot or Mentimeter based quizzes, short videos or podcasts to introduce a topic, a case study for Problem Based Learning (PBL), solving problems during the live session, animated PowerPoint presentations, team-based group activity such as ‘think pair and share’ activity to enable teamwork, annotated exemplar and demonstrating concepts using various online games.

Below are some examples of good practices:

  • Interaction and engagement: The utilisation of interactive videos using H5P helped measure a student's level of engagement with the teaching content. Furthermore, it was used as a formative assessment, to identify the learning needs of students. The teacher can then adjust the pedagogic approach to help students better understand the content.
  • Lecture recording: Most teachers recorded their live sessions and uploaded them on the media server of their universities, which helped students who are attending the module from various geographical locations with different time zones. Despite being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, lecture recordings helped students follow the material through the recorded lectures at a later stage.
  • Remote project deployment: Students are involved in a variety of mini-project assessments that require them to deploy their outputs using a dedicated platform. With the pandemic, these platforms have been utilised more extensively, as students have been working on their projects remotely. One such example is the use of the OpenShift Container Platform, on which students deploy their projects, making it easily accessible for remote assessment.
  • Lab interaction: Lab sessions were facilitated using Microsoft Teams and online Google/Microsoft forms to enable the interaction between students and demonstrators. The forms were used by students to get support from demonstrators and request demonstrators to evaluate their assessments. Furthermore, in the assessment of lab work quizzes were also used to measure the progress of the students, both in terms of summative and formative assessments. Demonstrators can record the videos of every lab demonstration and upload them to the media portal prior to the lab session. The implementation of this approach can save time and reduces student queries during the lab session.

Curriculum development

During the pandemic, it was paramount to redesign curricula to facilitate online and face-to-face teaching. The curricula were redesigned in such a way that it also fulfilled all the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) of modules given a ‘flipped’ classroom approach.

Challenges ahead

During the pandemic, various techniques have been successfully used and implemented. Still, various challenges remain:

  • Hardware based practicals: Some project work requires access to physical infrastructure or hardware labs to complete their coursework or capstone projects (e.g. Final year project based on embedded systems) and both students and tutor need to go to campus for the practicals.
  • Ability to focus online: Ensuring and monitoring student engagement during live sessions is a challenge during the pandemic. Indeed, it is very difficult to spot how engaged students are without the direct (physical) observation of the students.
  • Attitude: The implementation of online teaching is challenging if students and teachers believe that face-to-face teaching is more productive. For example, some subjects in engineering require face-to-face teaching for effective delivery.
  • Misconduct: Finally, preventing cheating during summative assessment is difficult because students take exams from remote locations.

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed the change in teaching from pre-COVID era to post-COVID. Furthermore, the positive influence of PGCAP on the implementation of flipped classroom teaching was discussed, and we shared some good practices. We hope that this article will help higher education teachers to improve their teaching practice.

Authors: 

Steve Uhlig (Head of School) and Yue Chen (Director of Education) are Professors at Queen Mary University of London. Sukhpal Singh Gill and Usman Naeem are Lecturers, Stephanie Fuller is an Academic Practice Taught Programmes Manager.

Original Article published on BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT website:

https://www.bcs.org/articles-opinion-and-research/how-covid-19-changed-computer-science-education/