Making a CASE for Using the Students Choice of Software or Systems Development Tools

By Howell, Barbara | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview
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Making a CASE for Using the Students Choice of Software or Systems Development Tools


Howell, Barbara, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

This paper outlines the first stages of a major research project. The paper describes an evaluation of a method by which a software product such as a Computer-Aided Software or Systems Engineering (CASE) tool may be selected for adoption within an educational institution. Furthermore, the paper seeks to establish which tool is the easiest to use and which provokes interest. This research exercise was not intended to refute the fundamental purpose of CASE tools but in addition to ease and interest sought to examine if the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in the form of a CASE tool can facilitate a students' understanding of a specific systems analysis and design technique. Based on these evaluations establish if a particular CASE tool could be a useful components of teaching and learning in relation to usability (ease of use), level of interest and facilitation.

Rationale

The School of Information Management, Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom, is in the process of adopting a new CASE tool to support the learning and teaching of various stages of the software development life cycle. To assist the selection process the user (students are the primary users), are to provide their views on desirable and undesirable characteristics of the tools. If users are involved in the selection process it is asserted that they are more likely to use the tool (Pressman, 1993). In addition, the academic teaching team have found that both undergraduate and postgraduate students have difficulty in grasping the syntax and semantics of systems analysis and design techniques. Peter Chalk (2000) states that CASE tools can enhance learning and support student centred learning. Both are desirable outcomes, which need to be explored and confirmed.

CASE Tools

CASE tools are automated software used by systems analysts on small and large scale information systems development projects (Chalk, 2000). CASE tools can provide support for a range of systems development tasks from project identification and selection to the implementation and maintenances phases (Hoffer, George & Valacich, 1999). CASE tools can support one specific systems development methodology or a variety of approaches (Sommerville, 2001). In association with the organisations 'chosen' methodology, they help the analyst create systems models (many of them graphical models) and then automatically check the models for completeness and compatibility (Satzinger, Jackson & Burd, 2002). CASE tools can also be categorised as upper, lower or integrated CASE tools (Satzinger et al., 2002). Upper CASE tools support the project identification, selection, planning, analysis and design phases of the systems development life cycle. Lower CASE tools provide support for the implementation, generating of code and maintenance stages of the systems development life cycle. The third category, integrated or ICASE tools combine the features of the upper and lower CASE tools to provide support for the full life cycle. For simplicity any future reference to CASE tools will be inclusive of the ICASE definition.

The rationale for using a CASE tool varies enormously between the various stakeholders. From the systems analysts perspective the reason for using a CASE tool are generally very practical and focus on making life easier (Parkinson, 1991). From an organisation perspective, the rationale is much broader and includes; improvement in the quality of the systems development, helps standardisation, improves the management of projects, simplifies maintenance, promotes reusability, improves the quality and maintenance of documentation and increases productivity (Hoffer et al., 1999). CASE tools must also be faster than using pencil and paper and be usable in developing a first draft diagram, which may not require consistency checking (Robinson, 1992). However, the selection of a CASE tool for many professional development environments is largely dependent upon the hardware platform, software system and skill base of the development engineers (Barn, 1992).

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