CSE Teaching Committee, Minutes of Meeting, 20 September 2007

The meeting commenced at 1:05pm.

Present: John Shepherd (chair), Adam Brimo (from 1:30pm), Richard Buckland, Paul Compton (from 1:15pm), Kai Engelhart (until 1:45pm), Oliver Diessel, Rob van Glabeek, Bruno Gaeta, Adam Letherbarrow (until 2:10pm), Morri Pagnucco (from 1:30pm), Sri Parameswaran (from 1:30pm), Malcolm Ryan, Rupert Shuttleworth (until 2:10pm)

  1. Previous meetings and issues arising from them - John Shepherd

    JohnS confessed to having misplaced the notes of the minutes of the two previous TC meetings when he moved offices. He gave a run-down of the agendas of the previous two TC mneetings and indicated what follow-up action had occurred on each item. Summary: all of the proposals from the last two meetings have gone through the various committees and are ready to run next year; the School has completed the CATEI evaluations for 07s1 (thanks to Bill for setting them up); most people have submitted their proposed changes for the move to 12-week semesters.

  2. Course Proposal: GSOE9220 Quantum Information and Computation - Arthur Ramer

    As part of a new suite of offerings badged with the GSOE (Engineering Graduate Research School) code, ArthurR is proposing a new course in Quantum Computing. Its primary audience is postgraduate coursework students in the new Faculty MEngSc program , but it will also be available to CSE undergraduates. RupertS queried whether it could be counted as a COMP elective; this needs to be investigated. It has no specified pre-reqs, but would not be available to undergraduates until they have complete COMP2911.

    Action: ArthurR to complete the proposal for the next UGEC; JohnS to investigate how it counts towards CSE undergraduate programs.

  3. Course Revision: COMP4151 Advanced Topics in Concurrency - Ron van der Meyden

    RobVG spoke for the proposal. COMP4151 was initially devised as a generic place-holder for a group of NICTA and CSE academics to teach a range of advanced topics in concurrency. The plan was that the single course code could be used to allow convenors to teach in their own specialist areas or follow recent advances, without the need to create a new course each time they wanted to change. After several semesters of this, the two dominant topics were moved to separate courses with their own codes (COMP3152 and COMP3153) and COMP4151 was retired. Ron van der Meyden now wishes to teach a course on one of the topics from the original COMP4151 that doesn't appear in either of the new offerings (Reasoning about knowledge in distributed systems). There was some discussion over whether it would be useful (probably) and possible (probably not) to reinstate COMP4151 in its original "shifting-syllabus" form. The concensus from the meeting was that a course on reasoning about knowledge in distributed systems is worthwhile.

    Action: JohnS to investigate whether "Advanced Topics in XYZ" type courses, with a changing syllabus, are allowed by UNSW. RobVG to complete the proposal for the next UGEC according to what JohnS discovers.

    Follow-up: "Advanced Topics in XYZ" type courses are ok, BUT (a) they must specify a fixed set of topics from which topics in a particular session are chosen, (b) if the set of topics is to be changed, it requires a course revision proposal, (c) students can't take it twice. RonVDM has supplied a proposal for a specific course COMP4152 Reasoning about Knowledge in Distributed Systems, which will go to the Faculty as the advanced concurrency course, to be offered in 2008.

    Follow-up to follow-up: The COMP4152 proposal was bounced by the Faculty on the basis that it did not look likely to attract enough students. Courses with a projected enrolment of less than 20 would no longer be approved, as they are now regarded as "non-viable". Even if CSE had a policy that such courses are taught "out of load", UNSW now regards this is as taking time away from one academic's research, and therefore not an effective use of resources. The Faculty will be conducting an audit of courses with small enrolments soon. Warning: keep this in mind when submitting future course proposals; apparently we are now being discouraged from offering a broad range of specialised courses.

  4. Program Revision: 3647 Bioinformatics - Bruno Gaeta

  5. Course Proposal: BINF3010 Bioinformatics Methods - Bruno Gaeta

  6. Course Proposal: BINF3020 Representations and Algorithms in Bioinformatics - Bruno Gaeta

    The above three items go together; the two courses are an essential part of the program revision.

    BrunoG describe the proposal. The essence of the proposal is to increase the number of elective choices in the Bioinformatics program, to open the BINFxxxx courses up to more students, and to fix some pre-req/background issues in the specialist BINFxxxx courses. BINF2001 and BINF3001 are being replaced by two level-3 courses (BINF3010 and BINF3020). Running the courses in third year will allow students to cover more foundational biological sciences and computing material before reaching these courses, giving them a more appropriate background to appreciate the material. At the same time, the material from the old BINF2001 and BINF3001 has been re-distributed to give one course primarily about applications of bioinformatics methods (suitable for students in the biological sciences) and another course on the representations and algorithms used in bioinformatics (suitable for all CSE students).

    Bruno flagged that the two course were also intended to be made available in the postgraduate coursework Bioinformatics stream.

    There was some discussion on the content of the BINF3020 course and the amount of pre-requisite computing knowledge that would be required. It was agreed that COMP2911 was a suitable pre-requisite, and that there was no significant overlap with the algorithms material in COMP2911 and COMP3121.

    The end result of this proposal: better "flow" in the Bioinformatics program; more flexibility for Bioinformatics majors; more scope for students outside Bioinformatics to take BINFxxxx courses; larger enrolments all round. The proposal was supported.

    Action: BrunoG to finish off the proposals for presentation at the next UGEC, and the next PGEC.

  7. Managing teaching load(s) in CSE - Richard Buckland
    (some thoughts on teaching allocation by Jingling Xue)
    (results of teaching load survey by John Shepherd)

    There was extensive discussion on this topic, led by RichardB. The situation, starting from 08s1: we have 14 large COMP[12]xxx courses to run each year (we use the acronym LLYCs for these Large Lower-Year Courses). LLYCs generate a considerable amount of revenue for CSE; without it, the School budget would be in considerably worse shape.

    The issue boils down to this:

    • a large amount of teaching is being done to run the LLYCs
    • the burden of this teaching is being carried by a small group of people
    • the situation is not sustainable i.e. if we keep asking the same people to carry such a heavy teaching load, they will burn out and we'll have nobody to teach years 1 and 2.

    One potential approach: reduce the number of LLYCs. We can't cut back on the offerings, if the courses are to work with the existing Engineering firat-year structure. We can't cut back on the range of offerings, given the diversity of student backgrounds in the first-year cohort; if we do, satisfaction levels with first-year computing courses will fall even further, thus reducing continuing enrolments in higher years and impacting the CSE budget.

    Given that we can't reduce LLYCs, we need to reduce the load on the current group of LLYC lecturers. This can only be achieved by involving more people in teaching LLYCs. The question was how this should be achieved. Incentives? Compulsion? Also, we need to ensure that any changes don't lower the quality of teaching in LLYCs and end up driving students away from further study in CSE. (Also, Jingling spent an inordinate amount of time trying to fill the LLYC teaching slots for the 2008 teaching allocation, and reducing this would be a benefit).

    Bruno described the situation in BABS, who were faced with a similar situation to CSE several years ago. What they now do: all staff make a contribution to teaching LLYCs (or else they buy their way out with their research money); nobody teaches more than 1/3 of an LLYC; nobody teaches LLYCs for more than 3 years running; significant admin support is provided; teaching is (clearly) done in teams; there is a load formula to back up this structure.

    One point of concensus was that there should be some kind of load formula to regulate the situation. (It turns out that VC is requiring each School to develop a load formula anyway). RichardB suggests that it should be based solely on LLYC teaching; in other words, everyone will need to contribute to the LLYC effort.

    ArthurR offered to develop multiple-choice exams for first-year, with the cooperation of first-year course convenors.

    Action: A small group of people, starting with Richard, Sri, Jingling, JAS, Oliver (and others to be invited), should develop a teaching load formula.

  8. Review of foundation streams (COMP19[12][17], COMP2911) - Richard Buckland
    (revisions for these courses passed at Faculty Standing Committee)

    This item was held over to a future TC meeting.

  9. Any other business

    SriP raised the possibility of having Computer Architecture restored as a core course in the Computer Engineering degree. A proposal on this will be forthcoming next year.

The meeting closed at 3:00pm.

On-going issues:

School of Computer Science & Engineering
The University of New South Wales
Sydney 2052, AUSTRALIA

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