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Anger at University over Computer Science module

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A final year Computer Science Exam has received exceptionally low marks with a majority of students unable to meet the 40 per cent pass threshold. An investiga- tion concluded that the exam was more challenging than it should have been and steps are being taken to mitigate the effect this will have on student’s degrees. This module, Fundamentals of Machine Learning (FUML), ran for the first time this year.

The University Teaching Committee, Standing Committee on Assessment, the Computer Science Department and external examiners have agreed upon steps to be taken to remedy the situation. Marks have seen “significant scaling” and the module has been converted into pass/fail with those receiving a scaled mark of 40 per cent or more passing the module. The option has been given for students to keep their original mark if they wish.

Students that failed the module, receiving scaled marks of 39 per cent or less, will need to resit the exam, set by a different academic, in Week Ten of term in order to graduate as planned. The exam will also be pass/fail and sat as if for the first time. Students unable to resit in Week Ten will be able to attend a resit in August, though this would mean graduating in January.

Additional support will be provided during Week 8 and 9 of Summer Term. However, this exam and study period are in the final weeks of term which are normally left free for students who have finished their studies by this point. A final year Computer Science student expressed their dissatisfaction with the department’s error, stating: “For the several weeks at the end of term that many final year students will be relaxing, I have to continue studying under pressure because of the Department’s error.”

A spokesperson for the University said: “The Computer Science Department received no complaints regarding teaching during the run- ning of the FUML module, which ran for the first time in 2018/19. As with all new Computer Science modules, a sample exam paper was made available to students prior to the exam to help them prepare. Additional teaching support is being put in place for students required to retake the exam for this module. The teaching and exam material will be re-assessed for the next academic year.”

Despite no complaints being received regarding the quality of teaching while the module was on- going, the exam paper did not seem to reflect teaching material. A final year student said, “the teaching we received did not cover a sufficient amount of the content that we were later examined on.” In a VLE announcement for students on the module, the Department admitted its failings, telling students, “We recognise that the teaching experience you had for the module was not the one you expected from our Department.” The sample paper students were provided with has also received criticism, with the same student commenting that it “bore little resemblance to the actual exam paper.”

Another final year student expressed their disappointment in the department for “how the situation even managed to occur in the first place.” They also lamented why the situation was only solved after the fact. “I felt like their approach to just removing it and giving everyone every opportunity to pass was nice, but it felt like they were covering themselves more than looking after the students.”

YUSU Academic Officer, James Hare, responded to the situation saying: “I am glad to see that a resolution has been reached so that students are not overly disadvantaged by a poorly set exam - credit must go to the academic reps in Computer Science who dealt with the issue swiftly and professionally, which I highly commend them for.

“However, this issue should never have arisen in the first place and I hope that the Department learn from this moving forward and ensure such a situation never occurs again. The inconvenience to students of having to retake the exam and the stress the situation will undoubtedly have caused is incredibly disappointing, even now the situation has been resolved.”

This is not the first time that the Computer Science Department has been lax with exam consistency. In a 2018 second year summer exam, students reported that a paper correction was read out in one of two exam halls, but not in the other, resulting in inconsistencies across exam scripts.

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