Thursday, 4 February 2010

Two weeks into the project... software, pedagogy and research

So, two weeks into my Arcadia research project, how are things going?

Building on Huw's work for the library widgets, I've begun creating the prototype exam paper widget. As so often with technology, the bits you expect will be hard are easy, and vice versa! Raven integration turned out to be instantly sorted by a combination of folder settings and ready-made code from the library widget, but getting to grips with JQuery is taking longer than I'd hoped.

Meanwhile, I've been researching the current workflow for the paper archiving of past exam papers - you can see a first draft here. The coloured boxes indicate potential moments at which digital archiving could take place. I've also been researching the range of forms and media in which exam papers exist - from audio files to data sheets. I've visited a number of libraries and librarians across the University, who have all been extremely helpful.

I've been conducting a small scale literature review, looking for any research into best practice in using past papers to support exam preparation. Unfortunately, this does not seem to have been well investigated in the past: however, Cambridge itself has carried out a number of small scale projects around this issue, and I'll be talking to the instigators of these in the future.

Over the next week, I'm planning to continue the process of gathering together current digitised exam papers, and labelling them according to appropriate University schemas. I'll begin research directly with students, finding out more about their needs when revising. It would be interesting to hold a small focus group with supervisors as well, in order to chat about their use of past papers. And of course, I'll continue developing the prototype software, aiming to get it up to the point where the information is working in a web page, though without a determined user interface.


Hugh T said...

One of the issues I see in making past exam papers so readily accessible to current students is that there's no way of connecting the papers themselves to the tripos regs in force at the time the papers were set. So, beyond the bare title, it's hard for a student to be sure how relevant a Part 1A question set in, say, 1995 might be to the part 1A they're sitting in 2010. Will be interesting to see what you learn when talking to actual students of their awareness of such issues, as well (of course) as the value they perceive such digitisation to have. Will there be a difference between perception and reality??

HMTruscott said...

Yes, indeed - that's a very good question to put to the students!

I notice that one lecturer in the English Faculty has dealt with this by putting up a notice on their website saying 'these papers were created prior to the change in the course - read them with this in mind'. Perhaps we need a way of flagging up 'change moments'?

University of Leeds (I think) deals with this by displaying quick links to the 3 most recent years' papers, with the rest put behind a link saying 'view the archive: note that these questions may not be relevant to the course today'.

Of course, in the short term, we may well only be able to get the past 3-5 years papers up.