Authentic Assessment in Foundation Year Computer Science

Case study authors: Dr Adam Wootton

Foundation Year Centre

CDF Framework: Authentic Assessment, Employability and Civic Engagement

Project Summary

Advancing Computing: Client-Led Collaborative Design puts Foundation Year Computer Science students in the position of professional software engineers tasked with producing a prototype app or webpage for a client.

The motivation behind the module was to develop the students’ soft skills and build awareness of Computer Science as a discipline that requires more than just technical skill. These soft skills were embedded into a semester-long project that sought to authentically replicate a professional software development project.

In the first two weeks of the course, the students familiarise themselves with the prototyping software and their fellow group members, allocating roles in the process. In week 3, each group holds a formal meeting with their clients, who are two or three members of Keele staff that they will not have encountered previously. In this session, they receive their brief and interrogate the clients. They are also given real brand guidelines to follow. They then spend two weeks on draft development, presenting the clients with draft designs in another formal meeting in week 6. The clients then feed back to the students, who are then able to begin work on their prototype. Week 7 is spent formally planning out the project, while the remaining sessions are given over to group project meetings. In week 12, the final prototype is presented to the client in the form of a video presentation followed by a live demonstration.

In addition, each weekly session comes with an individual assignment consisting of an element of a typical software engineering project report.

The module arose out of a need to augment the typical technical Computer Science skills covered in the Foundation Year, such as programming and Boolean algebra, with some of the more creative and soft skills that are also an important part of Computer Science. One motivating factor was that the module should seek to not just deliver these skills, but to also give the students a flavour of a career in software engineering. Achieving this by implementing this authentic assessment has the triple effect of equipping the students with skills that will be put to use in the remainder of their degree and the workplace, giving students experience of the field of Software Engineering and helping to inform students’ future module pathways and career choices.

The students benefit from this module and its assessment in several ways.

Firstly, it provides variety in the types of assessment that they receive in their Foundation Year, broadening their university experience.

Secondly, it gives them simulated experience of a career in software engineering.

Thirdly, it forms an integral part of a Foundation Year module diet that builds the diverse range of skills necessary for Computer Science.

This module diet also covers the many sub-disciplines that make up Computer Science, helping the students to make informed choices as they progress through their degree programme.

The module also helps to foster a strong sense of community amongst the students, especially in a pandemic where social opportunities are greatly reduced. This sense of community from the Foundation Year is typically retained through the remainder of students’ degrees.

This module was developed in collaboration with the School of Computing and Mathematics, who run a similar MSc level module. Indeed, some of the lecture delivery includes ‘wraparound’ lecture support from the School. The need to provide clients that the students will not have encountered before has led to staff volunteering to take part from across the Foundation Year, in subjects as diverse as Social Sciences and Physics, via Earth Sciences, Chemistry and Mathematics. It is intended that this module will be the subject of future publications and will be presented externally.

The need to provide students with support in developing softer skills that are not necessarily subject-specific is not unique to Computer Science. This module shows that such skill development can be firmly grounded in a simulation of the professional challenges faced by practitioners of the discipline in question. The fact that a similar module is also provided at MSc level also shows that this principle can be applied across different levels of study.