Weekly written assignments for CS students

I was speaking to a friend, who’s doing an English degree at Dundee University on Saturday, and she was telling us about how she didn’t have any exams this term and what they were doing instead. For her Vision in Film course they do weekly ‘journals’, which are 500 word essays on some aspect of the weekly topic. Each of these are handed in and a small mark given for the work. At the end of term, the students revise them, and use the appropriate ones to contribute to a larger ‘journal’ that argues an issue of their choice. So the students are doing weekly writing, which is good, and they get lots of feedback on their writing skills, which is good, and they also get to have a say in their coursework, which is good too, and the course organiser has one less exam to mark too, as the students are writing something more like what they’ll do for ‘work’ one day, which is also good.

Something like this could be done for the enterprise computing and security course I teach. The students are just starting their conversion degree, so they need to process and codify their thoughts on the subjects we’re covering in the term. A weekly essay would help them to keep up to date with the materials being covered in the course, and also give them lots of practice for their writing too. They already do a longer essay, which I’ve just marked and found that while some could do this ok, others were lost in the idea of what an essay should do, and how to structure arguments. The weekly feedback would help to overcome this problem, so that their larger essay would be more of a challenge, and rewarding for them.

To provide a focus for their work it might be useful to have each student write their weekly ‘journal’ as part of an ongoing analysis of a firm from the IT perspective. This would add to the notion of a  larger analysis or case study to see how IT and IS is applied in a consistent manner across a firm. Each week they would be looking at the firm from another point of view, with respect to another piece of technology and assessing how well it works, or doesn’t for that firm.

If the longer essay is also kept in place, then this becomes what is submitted instead of an exam. The exam for these students is then limited to the security part of the course perhaps, or maybe something else is done for that, which assesses their work in that part of the course. This will need more thought, but looks like it might be useful at some point.

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