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Communication in the Department

This is a quick general introduction to the way in which students and staff communicate in this department. The most important thing to note is that the best way to communicate differs between units and individuals. Please see the materials page for your units for a statement about this.

Personal Contact. Face to face contact is really important. Staff have an 'open door' policy, so students can drop in at any time to chat, without necesarily making an appointment. This is one of the things which distinguishes our department from some others (some don't even allow students into staff buildings), and it promotes a good sense of community. New students should try to find out about their tutors, lecturers, representatives, year tutors, course directors, lab supervisors, help desk staff, office staff. Staff can also be contacted by telephone, from a university extension or from outside.

Labs. Lab supervisors are provided for some timetabled lab sessions, for first year undergraduate and first semester MSc units.

Help Desk. Sometimes, if there is a demand, a general help desk is set up for all programming and technical problems. It is usually open for a limited time each day.

Technical support. The student technical support person is Sid (Syed) Rahman in 3.41. If he is not available, try the staff support person, which is Rob Thomas in 3.41. Failing that, our web and database person Martin Baker in 2.19 may be able to help.

Emails to students. Email is a great way for staff to contact students, because there are automatically generated email lists for every unit, every tutor group, and so on.

Emails to Staff. Email works well with some staff, but has become overwhelming for some others, who have had to stop reading emails at all at some times of year. This is because there are a lot of students and not many staff, because a culture has grown up in the university generally of sending emails about every trivial thing, and because an email can quickly turn into a long series of emails to try to clarify things, when a quick face to face contact would have sorted it out more easily. Also, emails are not reliable, for example they can be thrown away by spam filters, especially if they come from a non-university account. So (a) think twice before sending an email (b) don't rely on email for anything important (e.g. submitting coursework), and (c) check whether a particular member of staff prefers email or personal contact.

The Web Site. This departmental web site is truly enormous, it probably contains the answer to every question you could think of asking. It is used as the department's main information store, and also has many active pages which drive the department's activities. However, it is gradually being wound down in favour of faculty web sites. In particular SAFE is now used for coursework submission, display of marks, and storage of personal information. Some things that remain on the Computer Science site are:

Handbook. The handbook contains a lot of background information.

Forums. The department forum system is becoming an increasingly popular way for students to discuss issues with each other and with staff. There are many topics, and particularly one forum topic for each unit. On some units, these forums are used actively as part of the course.

Wiki. The most famous wiki in the world is probably Wikipedia, the world's largest and best online encyclopedia. We have a departmental wiki to record all sorts of miscellaneous information about the department. Everyone is free to join in and help to make it accurate and keep it up to date.

Personal Page. Each student has a personal page which summarises academic progress, and provides links. However, there is also a roughly equivalent personal page on SAFE which is taking over.

Unit Choice. There is link from your personal page on SAFE to a page where units can be registered. Students are encouraged to manage their own registrations this way, though staff can also do it for you and will need to give final approval.

Personal Files. These are files which staff keep on SAFE about students. Anything which affects academic progress is stored here, and we have virtually eliminated conventional filing cabinets. This has the advantage that students can see their own files.

PDP Blog. Students are increasingly being encouraged to reflect on their own career development and the skills they are acquiring, and this is called Personal Development Planning. As a new experiment this year, we are providing a customised service to make this easy, in the form of a blog. Departmental blogs (which can be used for any purpose) are highly controllable. You can make the entries unreadable by anybody else, or you can share them with anybody you want.

Feedback. One other issue is worth mentioning. Students are sometimes unaware of the amount of feedback they are offered in this department. There is sometimes less direct feedback, for example comments on coursework, than in some other departments and universities. On the other hand, this page shows that the amount of indirect feedback in the form of face to face contact with a variety of people, and in terms of information provided on the web site and so on is much larger than usual. This is because students are expected to take control of their own learning and ask for what they need. This is more efficient than producing lots of explicit feedback at considerable expense and then have nobody take any notice of it.

There is further, more personal, advice at:

Where to get help