COMP[39]161 Concepts of Programming Languages
Semester 2, 2018

Midsession Survey

Table of Contents

The midsession survey is now complete. The full results are available here.

1 Summary

Overall, the survey results were very positive. Students seem especially pleased with the interesting content in the course, my personal teaching style, and the comprehensive and large amount of materials we offer for each week of content.

The survey had about an even ratio of students who primarily watch lecture recordings and students that primarily attend lectures.

1.1 Theoretical Focus and Difficulty

This course is quite theory-heavy and has quite a high volume of content. Students who haven't been given the opportunity to train their mathematical muscles have indicated that the mathematical content is sometimes too difficult to grasp. Certainly, I would say that COMP3161/9161 is not an easy course.

The only avenue for students to improve their mathematical skills is practice. This is why I designed challenge exercises for students to practice with. I don't believe that going over topics slowly in the lecture is the way to impart mathematical skills.

That said, I will endeavour to include more worked examples and applications in lectures to improve intuition.

A handful of students actually indicated that they found the course content too simple. I think that means that I am close to the right balance of difficulty, although there is always room for improvement.

Some students reported that they sometimes understand the details but lose sight of the bigger picture. I will try to include more summary slides in lectures to explain how everything fits together.

1.2 Haskell Programming

This course is a theoretical course, not a programming course. Some students seemed to have enrolled under the misapprehension that it would teach them the Haskell programming language. For that, I would recommend COMP3141.

Students have requested more live coding and Haskell in tutorials to support developing their Haskell skills. Some students reported that it was hard to stay focused during live-coding sessions in the lecture. While I will try to improve engagement and demonstrate the necessary Haskell to do the assignments, I must stress that this course is not about Haskell, and Haskell programming was stated at the beginning of the course as something you must learn through self-study if you have not been exposed to it before.

2 Lectures

Lectures are generally very much liked by the students. The main issues were the speed of the lectures. As mentioned, I will try to include more worked examples in lectures to help guide intuition.

I will also try to avoid making slides that don't fully conceal answers to questions I ask in the lecture, to stop students from involuntarily peering at the slides to answer my question.

Some students in the web-stream report that it can be hard to follow when I'm pointing at things. I try to always clearly say what I'm indicating but sometimes I forget. I'll try to remember.

Some students wanted slides to be uploaded earlier. That would require me to write them earlier (I am not re-using slides from previous years). Therefore there is little I can do about that for this iteration of the course.

3 Tutorials

Tutorials are generally positively rated, by both my and Michael's students.

Some students wanted more coding in tutorials, and some students wanted more proofs/theory and less coding in tutorials. I am therefore left with the only conclusion that tutorials are okay the way they are.

Some people want more exam-style (non-challenge) questions to work on for themselves. I am starting to include some easier questions in the challenges, and next time I run the course I will include more revision-style questions in the earlier challenges as well.

Some students in the first tutorials of the week say that the time management of the tute isn't great. Unfortunately it's always the case that the first tutorial will go less smoothly than subsequent tutorials, no matter how much preparation is done. I have no objection if students wish to attend multiple or different tutorials, so long as they clear it with their tutor(s) first.

4 Written Notes and Challenges

Some students seemed to be unaware that there are written lecture notes for this course. Each week PDFs explaining the lecture content are uploaded to the course website. This is very useful for catching up on missed material or revision.

Some students dislike the PDF format. To them I say: tough. There is no alternative. If your computer struggles to render the PDFs, get a better computer.

The utilisation of the challenge exercises is not as high as I would like. Perhaps that is because they are called "challenges". I used to call them "exercises", but this misled people into thinking they were the same difficulty as the exam. I welcome suggestions on how to improve this problem.

As I already mentioned, I will be including more introductory questions into the challenges in future. Hopefully then I can call them something else.

As for the glossary, most students seem pleased with it although I have to be better at updating it. It's a lot of work to maintain and I've fallen way behind. Sorry about that!

5 Midsession Exam

Mostly the exam was acceptable to students, however many reported that they were under a lot of time pressure. I wish I could make more time for the exam, but sadly that's not easy to arrange. Looking at the results of the exam, I'm satisfied with the exam's function. It's not meant to be an easy exam, but rather be a clear signal of the level of this course to help students evaluate their enrolment decisions before the census date.

Some students reported that they missed out on the tutorial discussing semantics before they had to sit the midsem. The inclusion of semantics in the midsem was clearly signalled in advance, by the inclusion of semantics in the sample midsem. I also announced clearly in lectures that semantics would be in the exam, and that it was worth revising, and I released tutorial solutions for that tutorial early so that students who were in those post-exam tutorials could revise them and ask questions. I think that negates any possible advantage pre-exam tutorial students had.

6 Assignments

Most students seem happy with the assignment. The spec could be better-written, and there it may be worth scheduling a consultation hour for students for Assignment 2.

7 Forum

Some students don't like Piazza. Neither do I, but I don't see many good alternatives (for various reasons, webCMS, openLearning and edstem are not it).

If there are delays in answering questions, it's usually because I'm waiting to see if a student will answer it. If an urgent answer is needed, I usually answer right away.

8 Liam's teaching style

While students are broadly very pleased with my teaching style, some report that I can go too fast, operating under the assumption that students are fine when they are not (due to a vocal row of talented students that follow my lectures no matter how stressfully content-heavy they are).

Students generally ask for more examples and more revision of complex concepts. I will do my best.

2018-11-16 Fri 19:37

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