Innovative assessment by deploying online software

A new computational course in the Department of Earth Science & Engineering will benefit from innovative software deployed at Imperial College London.

Students of the Applied Computational Science and Engineering MSc programme will develop software to solve real-world science and engineering problems, from modelling asteroid impacts to developing harbour walls. A challenge when setting exercises and assessing the course modules is providing prompt, formative feedback to students on their software. So, working with Microsoft and the open source platform OkPy, the department of Earth Science & Engineering has developed a solution for automated assessment of software exercises.

What is OkPy?

OkPy is an open source, online software for assessment of code that provides automated grading and feedback on assessments. It is available on software development platform Github, and led by the University of California, Berkeley. OkPy can facilitate submission, give feedback on students’ compositions, and provide the teaching staff with analytics on the exercise outcomes.

Dr Gerard Gorman , the director of the Applied Computational Science and Engineering MSc who is leading on this initiative, can see many benefits of this automated solution. “By using OkPy, we can collect detailed data and gain insights in real-time on how students are progressing, potentially enabling us to find correlations between different exercises and specific learning outcomes. It can then help us set the most effective exercises in the course while giving students a clear picture of their progress,” said Dr Gorman.

Microsoft has been providing significant software engineering support to enable the Department to deploy OkPy at Imperial College via Microsoft Commercial Software Engineering Division (CSE). CSE co-developed the solution during a week-long code event with developer and systems administrators from Imperial College and Berkeley, to ensure the OkPy Platform fully supports Azure and Office365, which is used across many academic institutions.

Lee Stott, EMEA Leader Academic Engagements at Microsoft, said: “Our goal is to connect solutions with partners, customers, and communities and become a trusted technical expert. We have been working with Gerard Gorman and Imperial College to ensure that Microsoft Azure and Jupyter Notebooks can utilise OkPy and that the services are ready for students and academics for the start of the academic year. This included deploying the OkPy solution on Microsoft Azure and testing the Jupyter notebooks with academic content developed with Imperial College London.”

“Our goal at CSE is to enable high impact organisations and developer communities to achieve more and realise the value of our intelligent cloud and intelligent edge,” explained Liam Kelly, General Manager, Commercial Software Engineering, Microsoft EMEA. “Partnering with the world’s top academic institutions, we aim to increase the technical depth of students through hands-on engineering work alongside some of the world’s most respected organisations. This practical real-world experience is achieved through coding with our industry-leading software engineering team.”

Why automate?

Automated assessment helps the Department to provide immediate and personalised feedback to students - and it means the students can self-assess their progress and decide whether they need to undertake additional exercises. This supports the delivery of the College’s Learning and Teaching Strategy , and enhances the curricula.

“For example, the use of the automated assessment supports a flipped learning arrangement, to make teaching on this programme more interactive,” says Dr Gorman. It also allows teachers to quickly identify if students are struggling with a particular concept and intervene with additional support - or to see if exercises should be more challenging.

Imperial’s ambition to transform learning and teaching

The College’s Vice-Provost for Education, Professor Simone Buitendijk said: "The development and use of cutting-edge technology such as OkPy means that many Imperial students can benefit from more timely and personalised forms of assessment and feedback.

“The students and staff involved in the Applied Computational Science and Engineering MSc should be applauded for working so well together. By following their example we can get closer to our goal of delivering evidence-based learning across the entire College.”

Students themselves have an important role to play in the creation of a repository of software development exercises, not just as ‘beta-testers’, but also as co-creators. Working together with teaching assistants and teaching staff, the Department of Earth Science and Engineering is planning to use hackathon style retreats to bring students and teachers together to develop well-formed exercises that will meet specific learning outcomes.

The College will welcome the first intake for the Applied Computational Science and Engineering MSc in October 2018 and the course is open for applications until late July.

Article text (excluding photos or graphics) Imperial College London.