Third Year Individual Project 2009/2010


Introduction

As part of your Final Year you are required to successfully complete a Computer Science project, write up the project in the form of a dissertation, and give a demonstration of the project.

The Third Year Project is an important part of your degree. For single honours students, it is worth 40 credits, which is one-sixth of your entire degree (note that it actually counts toward one-fifth of your degree result with the 40/60 2nd/3rd year assessment weighting). It is usually worth 20 credits for Joint Honours candidates, although a joint project may be arranged, in which case the project will be worth 40 credits. Digital Business students do a 40-credit project.

This Handbook describes these projects in some detail. However, if after having read these notes you still have problems then please contact your project supervisor first, or failing that, see either of the module convenors Colin Higgins (in Nottingham) or KR Selvaraj (in Kuala Lumpur) for further guidance. You can also find some very useful suggestions that individual lecturers have put together, some of which are listed below:

A good textbook on projects is "The Essence of Computing Projects - A Students Guide" by Christian W. Dawson Pearson EducationISBN 0-13-021972-X

Key Dates for 2009/2010 projects

Each report should be handed in no later than 3:30 local time on the due date. Each report should be handed in as described above in the Key Dates. Do NOT hand it in anywhere else except by arrangement with the module convenors otherwise it will not be considered to be officially received and you may be penalised for a late hand-in (NOTE it is not acceptable to hand it in directly to your supervisor).

PDF versions of all reports must be made available at the same time as the written report is submitted. Please note: You must ensure that your report has the correct name (make sure you have used the correct case) and is left in the correct location, as specified on the TSG project page (please note that details for collection of PDFs from Kuala Lumpur are currently being finalised). Failure to do so will mean the PDF version of your report will not be collected.

It is your responsibility to make backups of all your work. If in doubt, back up onto your School H drive as this is archived most nights. If you lose work (code or data or reports) through theft, loss, error or damage you will not be allowed any extra time, nor will we take this into consideration when assessing.

Late submissions of both paper, PDF reports and source code will be penalised at the standard university guidelines of 5 marks per working day. Paper reports which are later than the 3:30 deadline will be time and date stamped and marks deducted. PDF files and source code which are not on time will also start to accrue deducted marks.

Choosing Your Project

The subject-matter of Third-Year projects is very varied, and changes from year to year, in line with developments in computing. The basic requirement is that it should involve a problem-solving and/or design element, and it should exploit major elements of the computer science that you have studied in your degree. Meeting this requirement is usually demonstrated by a substantial implementation. (The requirement is the same for all degrees, i.e. including joint degrees, but the extent of the project will, of course, be proportionately less for 20-credit projects.) Your supervisor is responsible for vetting your proposed project to ensure that it will meet the requirements for the degree you are studying; otherwise, the choice of subject-matter is primarily your responsibility.

The project is a major element of your final-year studies, and has a significant effect on the degree classification, so it is important that you choose an area that you are happy with. However, there are no hard and fast criteria for choosing a project. Ideally, we, the academic staff, would like you to come up with the idea, but in reality we realise that this can be difficult. Nevertheless if you do have an idea then approach a member of staff who you think might like to supervise the project.

Most students find it hard to identify suitable projects, but the following thoughts might help you.

Consider all the modules you have taken so far. Which ones did you find interesting? Were there any elements that were particularly exciting? If you can narrow down to a small area then approach the lecturer who gave the module and ask if there are any projects possible in that area. Alternatively, you might choose to work with a specific lecturer because you find their approach amenable to your own character. Again, go and see the lecturer to talk about the possibilities.

Alternatively, you might decide to take on a project which mirrors your interests or hobbies. For example, a football enthusiast might implement a football pools predictor, or a keen musician could implement software to generate sound effects on input guitar signals. It is a good idea to take on a project which interests you, because you will be putting in a lot of work on it.

Finally, consider (realistically) what grade you are aiming for with your project. The highest-graded projects tend to be those which have a significant element of original thinking evident. You should consult the Assessment Criteria below to see how your project will be graded.

If your project involves construction of hardware then the design must be checked by TSG to conform with safety regulations prior to construction, as it will be demonstrated in the school on completion. This will generally not require any extra construction time to be spent on making the hardware electrically safe as safety will have been built into the design.

Finding a Supervisor

It is best to find a supervisor whose own interests are similar to the work involved in your selected project. Of course this is not always possible, especially when a member of staff already has a full set of projects, but one of the other staff can supervise your project if necessary.

While it is nice to have a project supervisor who knows a lot about the area you want to study, that may not be possible, especially if you want to study an Internet or e-commerce topic (like everyone else!). However, the real benefit of a project supervisor is that they know how to go about approaching a study of this nature, and can provide you with advice on how to find information and how to write your dissertation.

BEFORE YOU APPROACH A POTENTIAL SUPERVISOR... be sure to have either a clear idea of what project you want to do, or else be willing to take on a project that they suggest. There is no point going to a potential supervisor with an idea like "I want to do something about the Internet" because many supervisors may not have the in-depth knowledge of the area to be able to refine your idea. Anyway, the choice of project is really up to YOU - if you really can't think of a definite project in the area you are interested in, ask a potential supervisor about projects they may have ideas for in areas they know more about.

You will be expected to see you supervisor regularly throughout the year, and keep them up to date on your progress on the project. The two of you should decide how often you will meet - it may not be every week, but perhaps fortnightly, as long as the meetings are regular enough that the supervisor can be sure you are progressing well. It can be helpful to give the supervisor drafts of your interim report and dissertation.

When arranging a project and a supervisor, your arrangement becomes official when your supervisor emails the module convenor to state that they are supervising your project.

Overview

  1. Final Year Projects shall be performed and completed by all students following both the Full and Joint Honours degree courses.

  2. These projects will be performed individually. Each project will have one student, one supervisor and one second marker.

  3. The projects will run for the most part in Semesters 5 and 6.

  4. There are three major deliverables for each student:

  5. Late submission of either the Dissertation or Interim Report shall be penalised at the standard rate of 5 marks per 24-hour period or part thereof.

  6. The following methods will be adopted for the marking of the projects:

    Late submissions of paper reports, PDF reports and source code will be penalised at the standard university guidelines of 5 marks per working day or part thereof. Paper reports which are later than the 3:30 deadline will be time and date stamped and marks deducted. PDF files and source code which are not submitted will also start to accrue deducted marks.

  7. All marks shall be subject to the final moderation/approval of the Board of Examiners.

Interacting with your Supervisor

You should make every effort to regularly see your supervisor to inform them of your progress. Your supervisor is not responsible for telling you what to do but is there to guide you in how to maximise your achievements for your chosen topic.

Supervisors are often willing to give comments on a dissertation draft, if given sufficient time. However you should be aware that supervisors are giving you feedback on how to prepare and present your project work, and that their comments form a necessary but not sufficient feedback for getting a good mark.

Your Dissertation

Since all projects are different it is very difficult to make comparisons between the various dissertations. Thus to assess the projects, a set of a set of guidelines has been developed which should help to guide you in the production of your final dissertation.

Before writing your dissertation, be sure to read the section below on copying of other work.

You should be sure to consult the Assessment Criteria so that you know what will be expected from your project in order to achieve the various grades.

Your Dissertation is Important!

Your dissertation is a key element of your project. It is the primary deliverable by which your project will be judged. You may include on-line references to your piece of working software, or references to the software handed in with your source code files, but no matter how good the software is, the dissertation is mainly what will be judged. Remember also that the external examiners may not have the time to look at you working software and they will only be able to judge your project from the dissertation.

It is important to realise that you cannot perform an excellent project, follow it with a poor dissertation and expect to do well. You must remember that others will be involved in the assessment of the project who you have not had weekly meetings with and who do not have access to knowledge not presented in the dissertation. Indeed, in the case of the External Examiners, they will not even know who you are! Thus all they have at their disposal to grade you is the dissertation.

Given this crucial observation you should not leave the writing of your dissertation just to the last few weeks of your project timetable. Also bear in mind that many others will be rushing to produce documentation towards the end of the second semester and that the printing facilities will be at full stretch during the last two or three weeks. The failure of laser printers, machines and the absence of paper at weekends, overnight or indeed at any time during this period will not be a valid excuse for the late delivery of your dissertation. All these occurrences can be guaranteed to occur so you must plan accordingly (See Important hand-in information below).

Use of your own computer for project work

One more important thing to note is that if you use your own computer for project work, you must back up your work onto CSIT computers at least once a week. This will minimise any loss should your computer be damaged or stolen. You already know that backups are critical, especially for such an important part of your degree such as the project.

Note that no extensions or extenuating circumstances will be allowed in case of information loss from your home computer if you do not weekly back up your work onto a CSIT machine.

It is not an admissible alternative to back up your work to any other place, including discs or memory sticks, as these are unreliable.

Writing your Dissertation

The best dissertations and reports, whether for a third-year project, a PhD thesis or even in some commercial applications, usually all follow much the same structure, as described here.

You should lay out your dissertation in the following way:

  1. Title page with a signed declaration that the dissertation is your own work
  2. Abstract giving a short overview of the work in your project
  3. Table of contents giving page numbers for all major section headings
  4. Motivation for the work: why this work has been done, what is the problem that is being solved;
  5. Description of the work: what it is meant to achieve, how it is meant to function, perhaps even a functional specification;
  6. Related work: what your work does that is new or is better than what other people have done in the same field;
  7. Design: a comprehensive description of the design chosen, why it addresses the problem, and why certain design decisions were made;
  8. Implementation: a comprehensive description of the implementation of the software, including the languages and platform chosen, problems encountered, any changes made to the design as a result of the implementation, etc.;
  9. Evaluation: e.g. testing the software against different data or in different environments, statistical surveys of performance, results of user evaluation questionnaires, etc.;
  10. Bibliography: a list of books and other publications that are either explicitly referred to in the text, or which are recommended for further reading on the topic.
  11. Appendices: this can include User Manuals, supporting evidence for claims made in the main part of the dissertation (e.g. a copy of a user evaluation questionnaire), samples of test data, etc. Note that these other Appendices are optional.

Do not destroy trees unnecessarily with printed code listings. You will be handing in a digital copy of your code which will be collected at the same time as the PDF files of your dissertation.

In general, all good dissertations follow a structure very similar to the one given above.

Dissertation size

The only requirement is that the dissertation should not exceed 20,000 words. The reason for this is to stop the presentation of unstructured and verbose dissertations which are generally repetitive. If you can present all your work clearly in 5,000 words or less then that is fine. However, think carefully about the examiners who have never met you and might not know the application area you are describing. You may know your work backwards, and perhaps your supervisor might have a good idea about what the project involved, but what about some other casual Computer Science literate reader? It is all too easy to assume that everyone else knows what you did whereas in fact they have no idea at all! Poor dissertations are generally notable for what is omitted rather than what has been included.

One final question concerns the inclusion of Appendices. Appendices are excluded from the total word count. It is unlikely that an Appendix will be read in detail by an examiner. The aim of an Appendix is to act as a supporting reference to the main body of the dissertation. Thus you might state in the main dissertation that "A complete and detailed User Manual was produced (see Appendix E)". Appendix E would contain the User Manual. This allows any casual reader to access the User Manual easily to verify the truth of the statement.

On top of adhering to this specification for your dissertation, you should endeavour to make your dissertation as professional as possible.

Assessment of the Project

In the following the term work refers to the total efforts of the students from the start of the proposed area of study to the final submission of the dissertation. The grading of the work is based upon the dissertation. It will not, however, be acceptable for high grades to be awarded to good work which is not reflected in a good dissertation without such special circumstances. The term dissertation refers to the final written report of the student; this document will be the primary source of assessment.

Assessment Criteria

The work will be assessed on the following criteria:

Amount of effort, diligence, initiative and enthusiasm shown; difficulties experienced and extent to which overcome; the extent of self-organisation and ability demonstrated by the students; the effectiveness, quality and quantity of work produced and the extent to which the objectives of the work were met. The organisation and structure of the work; quality of referencing, appendices, figures, programs and any other supporting documentation where relevant. Originality, novelty and innovation displayed in the work and reflected in the dissertation. The quality of the dissertation as a source of clear, concise and interesting information.

The supervisor will grade the work of the student and this will be moderated by a second marker. By default, they will be asked to comment on the following aspects of your dissertation:

It is therefore in your interest to address these issues to the best of your ability.

The following guidelines outline the typical requirements of specific grades. It is not necessary that a project exhibit all the criteria listed in each grade given below to fall within that grade. The characteristics of each grade are merely representative of that grade. The balance between various aspects of the work will be considered during assessment; thus for example a project with no software component would need to exhibit a corresponding increase in work and coverage in other components. Normally the dissertation should not exceed 20,000 words excluding any appendices or other supporting documentation.

Grades

Copying - quoting or plagiarism?

One thing that is absolutely not allowable is copying of text or code from any source at all and passing it off as your own work. This is called plagiarism and will at the minimum result in you being awarded zero marks and may in serious cases result in expulsion from the University without a degree being awarded.

If you want to include a small amount of text in your dissertation by quoting someone who has written or said something relevant to your work, then you are permitted to include this small amount of text, but you must indicate clearly which part of the text is copied, the name of the author(s) and where it comes from.

All quoted or copied text should be in italics and indented.
Do not duplicate large amounts of text, either with or without indication, as this constitutes a breach of copyright laws. If you copy substantial amounts of text form another source, even with citations, this is not acceptable. What you should do is to read and understand the materials, and write your own summary in your own words, stating the relevant information and giving a citation.

The same goes for copying code - you could be breaching copyright by duplicating chunks of code.

Staff can easily detect copied work because usually there are changes in the quality of the work, the written expression, syntax and so on all make it obvious that some parts of the work are not by the claimed student author.

In summary - do not copy text, code or anything else and attempt to pass it off as your own work. This is plagiarism and is ILLEGAL as it breaches copyright. Also plagiarism is CHEATING and punishable as such.

IMPORTANT HAND-IN INFORMATION

This section covers very important details about handing in your final report, including:

How and where of project hand

You *must* hand in your project to the appropriate office and at the appropriate times as specified in the Project Handbook in the Key Dates section.

You must not hand in your report directly to your supervisors. This has happened in the past and it has been assumed that no hand-in was made at all and the students awarded 0 for the report.

Being even a minute late for the hand-in is not an adequate reason for handing in your report to any other place - you should time your hand-in so that you do not miss the deadline. Have your report ready by the beginning of the hand-in session, not the end.

If you do not hand in at the appropriate place and time, then there is no record of you having handed in on time, and the penalties will start to apply.

Extensions

Extensions are usually only granted for medical reasons. The extension request requires a) medical evidence and b) the support of your supervisor (which can be emailed to the convenors).

Extensions will not be granted for equipment failures, as you should be backing up your work onto the School machines at least once per week - NOTE that it is not admissible to back up your work to a memory stick or disc instead of to a School machine as these are unreliable and can be lost.

Note that extensions cannot be granted by your supervisor. They can only be granted by the module convenor, in consultation with the examinations officer. Any unofficial arrangement you make with your supervisor regarding extensions will not be considered valid without authority from the module convenor.

So if you need an extension, please contact me in the first place, either by email or in person.

Summary

In summary, please plan your time carefully and be aware that not just you, but many other final year students will all be queueing for the printer and at the hand-in office, and that printer jams, network failures and car/bus delays are bound to happen.

Hints for time planning in the final week:


Last update 29th September 2010, Colin Higgins.