I was thinking why students (especially those in our CS department, at UiTM) could not perform well as expected in their Final Year Project (FYP). I came up with a few reasons :
1. Do not know what topic to work on. Choosing a topic for FYP has always been a problem. Sometime it will drag all the way into the second half of the semester and still cannot decide what topic to work. I think SIG can help a lot in this area by providing not only a general subject area but go straight to the specific topic that a student can take it immediately. Our common practice is to respond to an email asking for the topics…some will do it and some just never bother to respond. I would like to suggest that all SIGs must submit the topics that relevant to them. Even better if the SIG has an on-going research project; do squeeze in our undergrad students so realize the importance of this project. But never to take advantage for your own benefit.
2. Confused which is which. Students are confused because we are not sure ourselves which is which. So the philosophy of FYP must be ironed out first for our lecturers to have better understanding ( we will talk about his later). But for the students to be confused is normal after all they ARE students. Please! Let’s take the benefit of the doubt rather than start the blaming game. If anything is wrong then we are to blame. Pretty hard to swallow aih? Same here; but we have to learn to deal with it one way or another. In order to resolve this issue, I suggest SIG will come in again and draw out any requirement that they feel should have in this FYP. If ER diagram is needed then specify what is the minimum requirement. If UML is supposed to be there, give some kind of template so we know it is there. For machine intelligence topics, for example, we need the algorithm to specifically explain the intelligent technique. So this has to be explained and provided to the students. In this manner everyone is thinking on the same paradigm. Things will be a lot easier to manage.
3. Point of reference. Alhamdulillah it seems that we are on the right track and the point raised by Dr Marina is my next issue : point of reference. We must again and again emphasize to students that the main point of reference is his/her supervisor. Not Mr Google, or Mr Yahoo or his/her favorite lecturer. No matter how pitiful the SV is; he or she must be highly regarded/respected. I guess we all need to realize this and remind the students to go back to their respective SV.But if the SV is unavailable or unwilling to answer the question or “tak nak melayan karenah pelajar” then we need to deal with the SV first etc, etc. so there are a lot of things that we need to sit down and agree with. We cannot leave it to the SV alone to deal with this “MIA behavior” but instead to take a collaborative effort and help each other out.
4. Motivation to innovate. One disappointing view from students is that this FYP is just one stupid course to take before graduating…don’t worry cut and paste aje…and so on. I came to get this view from the graduating students a few years ago before CS230 was born. So disappointing…but that’s the reality. It might still be true today or might not. But students seem to lose interest quite easily if help is not available, too difficult for them to handle or fed up with the system all together. We must give them space to move , be creative and innovative. Some of them do have this ability; we must strive to find them and nurture them with whatever we’ve got. Support, encourage, or just simply talk to them will do okay. Never underestimate our students no matter how “kurang ajar” or “bengong” they are….it is just an act of ignorance. Ladies can do this quite brilliantly but I have to struggle because kurang sabar and cepat nak marah. How do we tackle this ? I would suggest moral as well as financial support for potentially good FYP.give lab space, PC, buy instruments, etc…might be the way; but again we need to talk about this in detail.
5. What to read, how to read and when to read. Students don’t read enough; even if they do, it does not seem to benefit the FYP. Nothing relevant being put in the report or presentation that shows he /she has been reading enough materials. The thing is that reading needs to be done properly to be effective. Sometime we look at the page and nothing really sticks to the mind. One reason is that we do not have something to look for in the page but wait for something interesting to pop out of it. When we read a novel, we do hope something of good surprise to spring up to make the story alive and good. But for a scientific article nothing is interesting other than the tables and the graphs which we do not have a clue either. So the trick is to know what to read and what to look for in the article. Instead of reading , we “pick things out” of the page…..so the action is much more dynamic rather than the “passive” thinking and staring at the page. Have some kind of borang so that you can fill in the points from the article…fill up as you go through the pages. At the end of your reading, you will have a physical document as the outcome…not just a long sigh and sleepy yawn. I don’t know how much students are required to read but whatever the amount is, it must be at least give an impact to his/her knowledge…(increase or not). And I would like to see a table comparing the literature some where in the presentation. The table summarizes all the relevant points related to the topic. Maybe this is good during the proposal stage.
6. still taking it easy on plagiarism. I am hoping that students are aware of this plagiarism by the time they finish FYP. I am sure it is in the syllabus; if not please put it in ASAP. And make them really understand all aspects of plagiarism—-put it in the test, quiz or whatever.
7. The “open source “ thing. If I could, I would like to ban this open source thing. It ruins everything that we have worked for the students to learn. But again we cannot deny reality; and open source is real in the real world. But what we can do is to make sure that the students know what they are doing and declare their contribution. It is not wrong but we want them to learn the skill of doing not searching
8. Presentation chill-–butterfly in the stomach. Some students are very scared of presentation and some dare to skip it altogether. I think it is good if we spent time talking about presentation before hand. SV can share their experience from teaching to help student performs a brilliant presentation. Since the presentation is counted towards the grade I supposed all the details have been discussed in the class.
9. Forget GUI; work on the engine. Students seem to spent a lot of the time on GUI instead of the engine. I guess because it is the part that they can manage. Playing with dreamweavers or netbean to get that beautiful interface…but where is the engine? Nanti kang siap la encik! The usual answer that we received. With less than a month to go, I can’t imagine how are they gonna get it done. But come November the engine will be there…walllaaa…..siap! this is not healthy learning at all. So can we do away with GUI or not? Maybe give a standard GUI…..
10. Lack of programming skill. This is the main thing to evaluate. But are we giving them a chance to prove their programming skill? Or we just burden them with unnecessary task? So many questions with no answer……
But then the FYP itself could be improved to cater for better enrichment of knowledge at the end of students’ academic year. I suggest a few ways to improve;
1. FYP is a system development not research. If FYP stands for Final Year Project then I think it should be a project. But project could be a system development project or a research project. At this level a system development project would be more appropriate. Last time I pushed for some kind of research element to be incorporated into the project but looking at the outcome from the previous years I must admit that it is a tall order. We try hard to push research in there until everything got muddled up and we ended up looking at a half-baked product. They are confuse on how to write research objectives, research questions and hypothesis. What is the difference between method and methodology ? what to put in the methodology part of the report. I mean these confusions are NOT necessary because they originated from the mixed-up philosophy of the FYP itself. Let’s be clear on the path that FYP has been designed to take us all to—students as well as lecturers.
2. Evaluation through presentation and demo. I think this evaluation part has been done very thoroughly but I hope everyone understands the process in a bit detail. We want to ask the right question, comment specific to the flaws, put down the right scores and look for underlying potentials that emerge from that particular FYP. Be firm, be fair and be objective.
There is no point to “berleber”with no focus whatsoever and waste a lot of the time. In the end the students go home more confused.
3. Output : a report and a journal article/seminar paper. In addition to the report I would like to propose for SV and students jointly put an effort to produce a paper. Even better if this is a requirement with same weightage calculated towards the grade. I mean all the hard work, at the end of the semester, the lecturers will have a paper or two to their credit. Not bad I suppose. I would go a step further to suggest an online journal is setup to put all these papers.
4. Funding. I have never heard that funding is a problem. Maybe Coord have resolved this issue with the Fac or Dept. But if you are fed up with the bureaucracy, I would like to suggest we set up our own FYP Fund. Maybe students can contribute RM10 and all of us contribute RM20 (atleast) each, we can think of the mechanism to manage this fund. Then students can apply to buy some equipments like digital camera/webcam/rfid reader/thumb reader/ or whatever to encourage them do better in the project.
5. Managing through an online system. From what I see this issue is a must. It will resolve a lot of other outstanding issues such as topics that have been done, archives, plagiarism etc. What I mean by this online system is that students will submit proposal as well as the report online and the SV/Examiners can access it online.