Week 1 of masters course

When I first looked at my timetable I thought I’d be in from 10am to 5pm every day, rarely having breaks other than for lunch.  All my classes were in 2 hour blocks with some labs scheduled for 3 hours. It looked like a tough schedule, with little time for private study and coursework – especially since 4 out of 5 of the courses this term are 100% coursework based.

I have discovered however that Strathclyde organises lectures in a very different way to Edinburgh. Because lectures are in 2 hour blocks, there is a lot more freedom in their structure. They can be an hour followed by an hour’s tutorial; two hours of informal lecturing with discussions and case studies; seminar based or finish early (which happened twice already, woo!). The pace is more relaxed, with emphasis on really understanding (and applying) the material rather than bulldozing through complex material with little class interaction. Well, that’s the impression I got from one week at least!

I think if the Informatics department at Edinburgh did this for some of their heavily theoretical and difficult courses, their pass rate would be much higher. One course that sorely needed this when I was in 3rd year was ADS (Algorithms and data structures). ADS was theory, theory, theory with the tutorials being quite far removed from the course content. Integrating the two into lecture/tutorial two-hour slots would have vastly improved my understanding of the material. I only fully understood ADS when I devoted most of my revision time in the exam period to it.

The labs at Strathclyde are also “take as long as you need” and usually don’t take the full 2 or 3 hours scheduled. This, and the fact that most of my week’s labs were cancelled (not enough material covered to warrant a lab) meant that my timetable was actually quite bare.

The lectures so far have all been really good. Most of the lecturers have fantastic stories about criminals or crime scenes they’ve had to investigate. This term I’m doing: Forensic Examination of Digital Artefacts (FEDA), Digital Information Fundamentals (DIF), Fundamentals of Forensics Theory (FFT), Fundamentals of Forensics Practical (FFP) and Research Methods (RT). FEDA takes us through the whole forensic investigation process from seizing digital artefacts (PCs, mobile phones etc), to cataloguing, examining, analysing, writing up and presenting in court. DIF is about computers and how we find stuff on them (I think) so details on operating systems, file formats and networks. FFT is a course joint with those doing the Forensic Science degree and is an overview to the whole forensic process. I think we get lectures on fingerprints, toxicology, a bit of law etc and it looks dead interesting. First lecture was aimed at chemists though, so I hope the pace won’t go too fast. Finally FFP is a ‘dumbed down’ series of practicals including fingerprint analysis and tool mark casting. It’s a simple introduction to these techniques for non-chemists. If we got jobs as computer forensic scientists we certainly wouldn’t be doing these, it’s just to give us a flavour of other forensic techniques. I got blood splatter analysis for my first lab which was really fun! It’s in a biohazard lab so we had to wear goggles and lab coats. Was well exciting! 😀

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