All of the teaching on the Programme is delivered through modules: a range of taught modules in 30 or more different subjects, and a pair of project modules that support the project and dissertation component of the MSc degrees. In this section, we discuss the arrangements for the taught modules only: the project modules are discussed in the next chapter.
We will usually call modules "courses". This makes perfect sense, as each is a one-week residential course in Oxford, and each could comprise a complete course of study. However, and particularly in this handbook, we'll often use the term "modules" to make it clear that we are not talking about the whole of a programme of study, such as the whole "MSc course".
The modules on the Programme are arranged into three themes,
- Software Engineering Methods: conceptual modelling of software and systems, at a level above that of concrete architecture and design; methods and techniques for requirements engineering, and the organisation of development teams and activities.
- Software Engineering Tools: designs, models, architectures, and the languages, tools, and techniques used to realise them: imperative and declarative programming languages, object-orientation, relational database design, testing, distributed, mobile, and pervasive computing.
- Software and Systems Security: aspects of security at all levels, from technology platforms for trusted computing to social and organisational practices that provide a context for the secure development and operation of software; critical systems design, security risk analysis and management.
The current list of modules in each theme is posted on the Programme website at:
If a student wishes eventually to be examined for an award in Software and Systems Security, then they must choose a sufficient number of modules from the Security theme: enough to form the majority of the assignments considered by the examiners. If a student wishes eventually to be examined for an award in Object Technology, then they must choose a sufficient number of modules in that specific area, a subset of the modules presented in the Tools theme. If in doubt, students should consult the examination conventions or discuss their proposed selection with their supervisor.
There is an additional, general provision in the formal examination regulations that the selection of modules should comprise an individual programme of study approved by the Programme Director. The professional experience of the students, together with the range of previous education, makes it inappropriate to impose a rigid template upon selection, and the award regulations for Object Technology and Software and Systems Security already impose adequate constraints. For awards in Software Engineering, approval will be granted automatically where the selection presented by students includes modules from both the Methods and Tools themes; if this is not the case, then the Programme Director will consult with the student and/or their supervisor before deciding whether to approve the selection.
Each module is delivered at Masters' level: that is, the nature of the subject matter, and the depth of knowledge and understanding expected, is accepted as appropriate for the award of the degree of Master of Science at the University of Oxford. With the exception of the project modules, which are intended only for students who have progressed to the MSc stage, any of the modules should be suitable for students working towards any of the postgraduate awards.
However, some subjects assume a certain amount of prior knowledge: students are advised to consult the module description, the current version of which is published automatically on the Programme website, which will explain any requirements or expectations. In some cases, these expectations may be addressed in part through attendance at another module on the Programme: students are then advised that to get the greatest value out of attendance they might wish to take that module first.
These expectations are not presented as formal requisites, and students are not obliged to follow the advice of Programme staff in this respect. The Programme reserves the right to refuse or cancel module registration on the grounds that the individual's participation would detract significantly from the learning experience of other attendees; however, this right is unlikely to be exercised in respect of registered students except in connection with recommended withdrawal from the Programme.
Booking and availability
Modules may be booked via the Programme website, or by contacting the Programme Office. Full instructions for booking are presented at:
A fee is charged for each module attendance, and is payable strictly in advance. A set of terms and conditions for payment are published at
Class sizes are strictly limited, and the profile of demand across the modules and themes can change considerably during the course of a year. Modules are scheduled with the aim of ensuring that, for every subject in each of the three themes, there is at least one module scheduled on the Programme calendar for which places are, or will be, available.
There is no overbooking, but students may join a waitlist if the module is fully booked. Students book up to 18 months in advance, and other commitments will often cause them to change their plans; it is not unusual for a waitlist of up to 8 students to clear completely for a particular module. Nevertheless, where waitlists exist, the Programme will consider scheduling an additional module in the same subject. Student opinion is monitored constantly through the on-line forum to ensure that scheduling and availability is regarded as generally acceptable.
Each module consists in three parts:
- pre-study: a period of preparatory study—this may entail reading chapters from a set text, examining relevant research articles, attempting preliminary exercises, gathering data, or preparing a brief presentation.
- teaching week: a single, intensive week in Oxford---comprising lectures, classes, workshops, and practical sessions; the balance between different types of activity depends upon the subject being taught.
- assignment: a written assignment, completed during the six weeks following the teaching week, allowing students to develop and demonstrate their understanding of the material.
The intensive teaching weeks allow staff and students to explore a subject in depth, focussing exclusively upon a particular aspect of software engineering, and building up considerable momentum as the week goes by. To get the most out of one of these weeks, some preparation is advised.
A pre-study exercise will be sent to participants with confirmed (i.e. paid for) registrations about a month in advance of the teaching week. Depending upon the subject, it may comprise a piece of recommended reading, some questions to answer, or a task to attempt. This part of the module represents a notional 10 hours of study time.
The preferred mode of distribution is via the web site. However, as the material for the pre-study may include a course textbook, distribution by mail is often essential. First class post will be used within the UK; outside the UK, a courier service will be used. To avoid delays, participants are advised to ensure that the Programme has the right contact address.
With the pre-study will come a set of joining instructions, explaining: the location of the course; the times at which teaching is expected to start and finish on each day; the arrangements for lunch and refreshments during the day.
Students are asked to arrive at the teaching centre before the start of the first teaching session: usually 9 a.m. on a Monday morning. Late arrivals should contact the Programme Office to gain admission, to be given a brief introduction to the facilities, and to be informed of any change in the module arrangements.
The schedule for the week includes 27 classroom hours, most if not all of which will be spent in the same, dedicated teaching suite. Teaching is normally from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday, and from 9.00 to 12.30 on Friday. There are short breaks in the morning and afternoon, and a longer break over lunchtime—lunch is provided.
At the beginning of the week, each student will receive a copy of the course material. If there is a textbook for the module, and this has not been distributed with the pre-study, then copies will normally be given out at the start of the course. If a textbook has already been distributed, then students should bring it with them so that they can make reference to it during the week.
With the exception of textbooks, all material will be made available on the Programme web site. Students who attend will be able to download material at any time after the week begins. If a module makes use of electronic resources, such as additional reading materials, reference documents, or software tools, these will also be available from the web site.
For most subjects, the activities during the teaching week are directed by academic staff of the Programme. For the others, the Programme employs an external, subject specialist: an authority on that aspect of software engineering. Attendance is limited to a maximum of 12, 16, or 18 students, and assistants are employed to provide help with workshops and practicals.
Lecture or seminar sessions are used to structure the week, breaking the subject into a number of topics, and to introduce material for the first time. The small class size means that discussions can be conducted during lectures, and that each member of the class can be invited to participate.
The material introduced can then be explored through class exercises, workshops, and practical sessions. As well as promoting learning through application, these sessions provide feedback on individual progress; lecturers can then adapt their teaching to the needs of the current group of students.
An assignment will be distributed to all attendees on the last day of the teaching week. This has a dual purpose: it continues the learning process of the week, allowing the student to test and extend their own understanding through application outside the classroom, in completing a personal "mini-project"; it also provides, through the subsequent submission, the basis for a formal assessment of ability and understanding.
Assignments are treated as examinations of the University of Oxford, even if the individual undertaking it is not currently a registered student. Participants are asked to sign an assignment acceptance form to confirm that they will comply with the relevant parts of the University's examination regulations: in particular,
- 3. No candidate shall cheat or act dishonestly, or attempt to do so, in any way, whether before, during or after an examination, so as to obtain or seek to obtain an unfair advantage in an examination.
- 4. No candidate shall present for an examination as his or her own work any part or the substance of any part of another person's work.
- 5. In any written work (whether thesis, dissertation, essay, coursework, or written examinations) passages quoted or closely paraphrased from another person's work must be identified as quotations or paraphrases, and the source of the quoted or paraphrased material must be clearly acknowledged.
Specific guidance on the acknowledgement of sources is provided. The full text of the University regulations is available at:
Submissions may be handwritten, although students are asked to take care to ensure that their text is legible and that any diagrams or illustrations are clear. The same considerations apply to typeset submissions: a font size of at least 10pt is essential, as are adequate margins.
The length of a submission should normally be no more than 25 pages, at A4 size, or 6000 words. The assignment itself will include a clear specification of the allowed extent, and will detail any additional material to be submitted.
The normal means of submission is via the Programme website—
—during the assignment period. Any material uploaded may be viewed, replaced, or deleted by the participant concerned at any time before the deadline given.
The main part of the submission should be in one of the following formats: Portable Document Format (.pdf), PostScript (.ps), or plain text. .pdf is the preferred format. Apart from the commercial Adobe Acrobat Distiller, PDFMaker, and PDFWriter applications, there are several freely-available tools for generating PDF versions of documents: see, for example, www.pdfonline.com, www.pdf995.com, and www.ghostscript.com.
If part of a submission is found to be unreadable, and there is a reasonable explanation, then the examiners may contact the student and ask for replacement data. This data will be checked for consistency with the original data supplied. Students should keep a copy of any material that they upload to the system. If a document—as uploaded—is found to be unreadable, and the student is unable to supply a fresh version, then no credit will be awarded for the submission.
The use of the Programme website for this (and for any other purpose) is subject to the University's standard regulations on the use of information systems. In particular, users must protect their passwords, and take care that only appropriate documents are uploaded to the system.
Although electronic submission is preferred, paper submission is also acceptable, provided that all material arrives at the Programme Office before the deadline.