From March, 2009 to June, 2009 I was involved in the final year project related work, and completed my degree with viva and presentation in June. Here I am sharing my experiences and suggestions to improve the productivity of the time spent, quality of the projects, and usefulness of them.
I particularly identify the following areas to be improved.
The list of names of group members (4 undergrads per group) was called in March, 2009 (if I remember correctly). The groups were mostly created among friends, colleagues (those who did the internship at the same place), and based on the popularity of members.
Although I am not confident about its practicality, I think, it should follow “idea-incubation stage”, so that members could choose to join a group based on the idea and complementing merits of others who have also expressed their interest on a topic.
Project proposals were called following the a session where we were introduced to the procedures. Approximately two weeks time was given. However proactively we had planned a fortnight ahead and came up with a list of 13 projects on our own and chose 5 top projects, that would meet the final year project’s complexity and requirements. Few to note were, a shopping guidance system with RFID or any others(we later learnt the possibility of various indoor transmission, localization and guidance systems) to assist buyers, movers and managers in a large shopping complex, a system to transmit mobile phone calls over land lines, when the call is made from inside the building and Zigbee based intelligent home automation, and X-bee/Zigbee based traffic light management + bill board management. We had mailed two staff whom we thought would be interested in the selected topics, and met one, but apparently they were more inclined towards their projects.
The identified difficulties are
- Although about 2 weeks time is given to select a project, not all lecturers post their ideas immediately, and most of them add more later. This effectively reduces the time left to weigh the options.
- Although it was emphasized that student ideas are preferred, it is yet to be seen in practice, and even a mild disinterest that appear from a staff will be hugely discouraging as undergrads tend to belief that staff will grade their own projects favorably.
- There is no common forum to discuss the ideas, comment or follow up. No transparency at all.
- When staff proposed projects are listed very abstractly, it could lead to two possible disasters: students choosing it based on the appealing title and get disappointed when they find it was not what they intended, and students leaving the topic because of the ambiguity. In such circumstance, it is wise to consult the staff who proposed it. However, few staff are quite busy with other works, and generally not available for discussion in person and / or takes longer than reasonable to respond (provided that students have less than a week to choose). In such situation, it is better to follow another project as the students will be left helpless if this behavior continues in future as well.
I believe staff should become easily approachable, available at least over the email or by appointment, and the communication should be more transparent, friendly and objective.
By looking at the statistics on the projects that made any significant changes we could evaluate the efficacy of the system.
I see the main reasons for the projects being not pursued further as follows
- Students are not passionate about the project : while it is unavoidable, the rate could be reduced by allowing more student proposed projects. It is those individual itches that are strongly pursued after, not someone else’s.
- No immediate financial viability foreseen in the projects : most of the projects are complex in breadth but not in depth, and it requires larger infrastructure facilities to mass produce. Project ideas are not easily convertible to money.
- Support from industry is inadequate : Although it could be a proactive nature for a student to acquire support from an outside establishment, it behooves academic staff to build relationships not necessarily limited to Sri Lanka only.
I suggest, that following carpenters rule of measure twice, cut once, minimum a month should be allocated for this process and it should be done over an online discussion platform with the support to topics subscription, follow ups, comments and ratings. Students should be encouraged propose their ideas through this medium and staff members should actively engage in the discussion. Also they could propose their ideas and let students discuss on it. By their participation in the discussion under a topic, students could identify their possible advisor and vice versa. By the deadline students could submit their proposals for more than one project and staff members also could pick more than one. With the availability of proper tools, this could be easily done, and conflicts could be resolved a over a meeting possibly online with students and staff involved.
Google groups, probably coupled with a messenger (google talk or Skype) and / or IRC (Freenode server is one of the popular) meets the above requirement. Also it is compatible with Melange (mentioned below) and hence a fully integrated solution can be easily put on.
While even state institutions in the United States are trying to minimize paper work by utilizing e-formats, they are still required extensively in the only technical university in Sri Lanka. Not only it is a waste of money, but also a pollution. What happens to those printed papers by end of the year?
I suggest that proposal submissions be done online. Also, what I had noticed was both staff and students are interested in seeing more graphics, pictures and tables than actual content. It is quite understandable as it eases understanding, it also implies lesser original work from student, as a picture takes about 10 times of time to make compared to paragraph of content. Therefore, I suggest making the proposal through a WYSIWYG powered editor online where students could provide links and references to other resources easily instead of copy/pasting and thus filling pages. This not only improves the quality of content, but also eases the unnecessary work load related to formatting and editing. In addition, it enables the plagiarism testing, spelling and flow checking, etc.
The department is using Moodle for the purpose. Being a CMS developer, I am not appealed by Moodles design and usability.
Being a 3-time Google Summer of Code participant, I am hugely impressed by the professionalism of the coordinators, appropriateness of the tools involved, and passion showed by the participants (of course the 4500 USD stipend involved makes a huge difference) albeit the scaring total of more than 1000 participants, 1000 mentors, and more than 100 institutions.
Why can’t we do the same with 100 students and 10 staff? Perhaps it is time to bring more technology into HOW THIGNS ARE DONE.
Although we were fortunate to have a supervisor who wouldn’t mind us bugging over email nor call his mobile, few were waiting for their supervisors for hours. It is understandable, that supervisors will have other commitments that have more priority. However, no regard shown for others’ time portrays the arrogance of the staff. It is becoming common for students to involve in outside activities, including extracurricular, co-curricular, entrepreneurial and other professional activities, and for few university career brings a smaller benefit compared to others, let alone FYP. Especially the economic crisis and job-cuts made other activities more valuable, and continuous disregard for undergrads’ time will only make them get fed up and give up eventually.
Both could have a win-win situation by setting a prior appointment or by having a fixed time assigned to meet FYP groups. This is possible over an email, but not everyone is organized enough to keep their words and appointments. A micro-blogging framework with the ability to add groups (or channels), follow selected groups, persons and topics, pinging, personal messaging, and status messages will alleviate the problem as it enables the staff to contact students easily, and quickly, while students could also respond instantly. Further students could easily check the availability of the lecturer from the status message and/or by pinging them.
In the second part of this post, the following areas will be discussed.
- Logistics and Resource Management
- Project Evaluation
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 at 10:58 am
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