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Evaluating the Programming for Physical Sciences website and forums on SM123 Physics and Space

  • Project leader(s): Andy DiamentGemma Warriner
  • Theme: Supporting students
  • Faculty: STEM
  • Status: Current
  • Dates: December 2023 to December 2024

Students on SM123 Physics and space learn programming in Python across the module. Some find it straightforward, others very difficult. This project builds on our earlier eSTEeM project, How successfully are students engaging with the Python component of SM123?

In this project, we will evaluate the effectiveness of two support interventions.

One strand will evaluate the use of Website: Programming for Physical Sciences (open.ac.uk) (intranet only), a resource that has been developed to support students across Physical Sciences modules, including content aimed specifically at SM123 students. We will use analytics to understand the pattern of use of these resources across a presentation, and a survey to gain user opinions. It will also provide information on usage by students on other modules.

The second strand will analyse past forum postings to determine if forums are adequately supporting the least able students. Our concern is that novice students are deterred from asking questions by discussion by more experienced programmers, and that forum activity reduced in the 22J approaching the final TMA, that contained the most challenging programming task of the presentation. Our intervention is to introduce a Private Forum (each thread is private to the student and moderators) so we can compare postings in a presentation with normal, open (module-wide) forums with a presentation with both types.

We hope that understanding the pattern of use of the website will enable SM123 to better promote the site and specific features. The survey should identify materials that have proven useful and identify gaps where resource could provide additional resources. In understanding forum use, we hope to bring more traffic to the forums. We will learn if a private forum provides better support. Comparison of a private forum with an open forum presents an exciting opportunity for investigation, as little or no scholarship has been conducted in this area.