Computing Science: Professional Skills and Issues

Professional Skills and Issues is a final year course that students must take in order to get professional accreditation.The students are a mixture of fourth year Computing Science students and Masters degree students (about 55 in each cohort) as well as some (6-7) third year students. The course introduces the legal, professional and social issues involved in the widespread development and use of computational devices and stimulates students to develop their capacity to ask serious questions about the impact of computing in society, to evaluate proposed answers from different perspectives and to develop their skills in argmentation and the evaluation of evidence. Students were prepared for peer review in a short essay task on a 500-word general information technology topic. This was not marked. Subsequently they carried out a peer review on a coursework essay 1500-words worth 20% of the final mark.


School: School of Computing Science

Course: Professional Skills and Issues 4

Students: 55 Level 4, 55 Masters and 6 Level 3

Task: As an introduction all students produced a short 300-word essay on a general topic about the impact of information technology on society. They then reviewed two of their peers' essays. This exercise was not assessed. 

In the main task students produced a 1500-word essay on one of three topics - use of free software, malware or surveillance - and then peer reviewed three or more essays from those who wrote on the same topic. In the final peer-review stage, students were assigned three reviews written by other students, from any topic area, and were asked to rate these on a 1-4 scale. They were also asked to make a statement about how useful they thought the review would be to the author and to justify this decision. After this stage students revised and submitted their essay for marking by the lecturer.

The submitted essay was worth 20% of the final mark for the course. A multiplier was used to adjust this essay mark depending on the students' participation in the different components of the review process. In effect, students were only eligible for the full 20% if they participated in all 6 components of the peer review process - reviewing three essays and rating the feedback received by three peers.

Peer Review: Students were provided with a rubric for each review. For the introductory task they had to comment on the structure, argument, evidence and writing ability expressed through the short essay. They also had to rate the quality of these components on a 1-4 scale denoting poor, average, good, excellent.

In the main Peer Review task students were first asked to summarise the essay and its main arguments, then to rate and comment on its structure, argument, evidence and writing ability as per the introductory task. They also provided an overall rating on a 1-4 scale as before. All the peer reviewing was double blind and the ratings had no effect on the final marks awarded for the essay.

Findings: Ethics considerations meant that no formal feedback from students can be published. The informal feedback received however was highly polarised with students either saying it was very worthwhile or not worthwhile at all. Despite this the course leader reported that although peer feedback is of variable quality the act of reviewing an essay written by others is important as it requires a high degree of critical engagement. Also, while critiquing, students see what others produce and this can provide helpful examples, especially for weaker students.

Issues: The course leader reported that this course has an underlying tension in that many students have little experience and are resistant to writing essays. Discrepancies between student reviews and marks given by academic staff was also a cause of concern for some students where, for example, they received a good review from peers and a low mark for their essay.

Software: Aropa 

Course Leader: Dr Simon Rogers, Computing Science, University of Glasgow, 





David Nicol identifies key features and suggests possible enhancements to this peer review design.