The Use of Reflective Commentaries in Computer Science Teaching

Dr Simon Polovina

University of Hertfordshire

The paper describes the author and his colleagues' approach to, and experiences of, the application of the educational professional's 'reflective practitioner' ethos to computer science students in that these students are required to produce an individual reflective commentary. To assess these commentaries given the large numbers of students studying computer science nowadays, the author has developed the marking schemes originally illustrated in Gibbs' 1992 "Assessing more Students" text from the seminal "Teaching More Students" series. These developed marking schemes are illustrated in the paper.

The relevance of student reflective learning is identified from the fact that computer science is no longer simply a physical science involving, say, purely program coding or optimising algorithms. The bulk of today's computer science activity is qualitative thinking, particularly in defining user requirements and system design, both of which draw upon a much more social science context. In traditional computer science the tutor generally assesses the final program content with maybe some final discussion about the design but not the students reflective thoughts as that student goes through this process. By assessing the process as well as the product, the student is encouraged to undertake deep learning, like we educators, so they become reflective practitioners too.

Apart from the well-known benefits to educational professionals, the student is accordingly provided with critical thinking and research skills fundamental to their career development when they enter industry. A useful by-product of this aspect is that, in developing these skills the student has helped with the tutors own computer science research interests. When the students reflect on their learning, together with the open-ended but controlled marking schemes used, they engage with a 'unique' voyage of discovery in which they discover items that the tutor is previously unaware of! (And given the rapidly changing knowledge base of computer science, e.g. By the increasing importance of the Internet, being kept at least up-to-date this is greatly appreciated!) Another interesting dimension is that, as the student takes this voyage of discovery, it is the student's personal learning experience. This avoids the problem of 'one teaching and learning size must fit all', and works against plagiarism.

The paper describes how this assessment approach is used on the University of Hertfordshire's bsc Computer Science degree second year "Information Systems Development Project" and final year "Intelligent Internet Commerce" courses, and the practical methods employed. The paper also discusses certain issues with this approach. For instance the difficulties that students face in this new-to-them assessment style, as it forces deep learning which may be an experience they may have never experienced before. As student numbers get larger and larger scalability issues also begin to emerge, despite the 'turbocharged' marking rate that the marking schemes offer. (This is annoyingly so as when the tutor becomes too engaged in the content of student's reflective commentary!) Nonetheless the benefits of this learning and teaching style presently still significantly outweigh these considerations, and the paper offers some suggestions how this form of assessment can continue in the emerging educational climate.

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