Frequently asked questions

These answers only apply to Computing PPTs

The PPT System 2006-7

How is the PPT system being changed this year?

There are two major changes:
Firstly: you will have a (Undergraduate Teaching Assistant) (UTA) to mark the lab exercise and take the weekly PPT meeting. Secondly: the PPT marks will be zero weighted this year.

What are UTAs?

Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTAs) are third and fourth year undergraduates who have offered to help with teaching and marking of first year work. They have been recruited from students who are known to be excellent programmers. They are required to have an 'A' overall on their degree so far and an 'A' in first year programming.

How will the UTAs be managed?

The UTAs will be given some initial training at the beginning of term and they should be broadly familiar with the way the PPT system works. They will also have a monthly meeting with the First Year Lab Organiser Peter Cutler to review their work and discuss any problems they may have. As a PPT you will be mentoring and supervising your UTA. You will also be signing-off their payment claims via the Tutorial System. The UTAs will be paid 2 hours per week in the Autumn term and 3 hours per week in the Spring term. This will involve one hour for the PPT meeting and the rest for marking and preparation.

How was my UTA helper chosen?

If possible we have selected a UTA who was in your PPT group when he/she was a first year student. If you weren't a PPT before or there was no UTA suitable we have assigned a UTA from the pool of possible helpers.

How will the UTA helper assist me?

The role of the UTA is:
Firstly: to do the marking for your PPT group and enter the marks into CATE. Secondly: to help you run your PPT meeting and enter the attendance into CATE.

What are the CATE arrangements?

CATE will need to be modified to allow the UTAs to enter student attendance and marks. As many other modifications are being made to CATE the changes will not be ready at the start of term. Until CATE has been modified there will be two ways to record attendance and marks. Either you could take some time at the end of the PPT meeting and enter the attendance and marks or the UTAs could use lab scripts to submit them. If you can submit the attendance and marks they will be made directly available to CATE and this will allow the Senior Tutor to have completely up to date information. There will be a delay if the UTA uses the lab scripts as these make the information available to the First Year Lab Organiser who will then have to input them into CATE.

How has your role as PPT changed?

You will still run tutorials but with assistance from your UTA. You will have help with the less interesting but time consuming part of the task. Your UTA will be developing his/her skills in programming and communication while he/she is helping you to run the PPT group and you will be mentoring and supervising him/her. You should agree a marking methodology with your UTA and supervise his/her marking to ensure that it is consistent and contains sufficient helpful feedback. You should attend every PPT meeting but you can let the UTA take an active role. Before the PPT meeting you should discuss the teaching strategy with your UTA and then review the progress of the meeting afterwards.

Will I have the same UTA PPT helper for the whole year?

We do have a reserve of UTAs who will be acting as lab demonstrators and holding surgery sessions but we hope that all PPT helpers will stay for the entire year. It will good for everyone concerned to have continuity. For this reason we would like to make helping with the PPT system a positive experience for UTAs. If the experience is positive it will be easier to extend the UTA system next year.

How will the labs be assessed this year?

The "look and feel" of the assessements will be similar to last year. The students will receive their previous submission at each PPT meeting marked out of 10. The change from previous years is that the lab marks will be zero weighted. This means that the the students are no longer required to get 40% overall for their lab work to pass the first year.

The lab marks should give a clear indication of how the students are expected to do on the online lab tests. In previous years the average lab marks were considerably higher than the average online test marks. The students do spend time ensuring their labs are correct and well written and this partly explains the difference. However we would expect the marks to be more closely aligned this year.

The PPT students will still required to submit every lab exercise and attend every PPT meeting. The students will be assessed on programming through online lab tests and students who fail these tests will fail the first year. PPT students are expected to do their lab work well and will be at risk of failing their online tests and hence the first year if they don't. In addition some of the lab exercises in the second term will be designated as courseworks and will be included in the first year coursework asessment.

How will the changes affect student motivation?

Most students want to do well in the labs and take the feedback given with the marks and at PPT meetings seriously. They should be aware that programming is a core skill and that the labs play a vital role in helping them become Computer Scientists. Students who adopt a "marks based culture" should be motivated by the need to pass the online assessments and exams. PPT students are expected to attend every PPT meeting and submit every lab. Any student who misses a PPT meeting or submission should be reported to the First Year Laboratory Organiser Peter Cutler and the Senior Tutor Margaret Cunningham

What if a student falls behind?

It is important that students who fall behind with programming seek help as soon possible. Students can get help from a variety of sources at the moment such as the PPT meeting, the lab workshop, the lab sessions etc. We are also going to run surgery sessions with UTAs where students can get help with programming concepts. Any student who has difficulty understanding any basic programming concepts should be recommended to attend these surgery sessions.