Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Guiding Students Learning Project Team Management from Their Own Practice

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Guiding Students Learning Project Team Management from Their Own Practice

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the final year study in computer science, software engineering, and information technology, students are required to complete a teamwork-based project. To this stage, it is assumed that students have taken many fundamental and specialised subjects/units that enable students to initiate and carry out an appropriate project. For example, in the School of Computer and Information Science at Edith Cowan University, by completing units on systems analysis, object-oriented analysis and design, and database design, students should gain skills in project analysis and design; by finishing units on software engineering, project management, and professionalism, students should obtain required skills in project planning, management and working in a team environment; skills in coding, testing, and implementation are acquired from studying units on programming, database, networking, internetworking, and interactive Web development. It is this final project that integrates all the knowledge and skills learnt from these individual units into a collection of deliverables as a project.

Experience in supervising student project development has shown that application of the knowledge and skills mainly gained from theories to a practical project is not as easy as students may have thought in the beginning of their project. Technical problems are often encountered during the course, but most students are able to overcome them gradually. It is the student's ability in working collaboratively in a teamwork environment that is the most influential factor on the quality of a student project. Usually a project team working in a collaborative environment will produce a high-standard project that fulfils the proposed project objectives on time whereas a project team with internal turmoil throughout the course always struggles to reach the basic requirements for passing this project-oriented unit. This demonstrates that dealing with the 'social' issues associated with a project team is more difficult than overcoming 'technical' issues encountered during the project development for students. These 'social' skills can only be learnt from student's practice in a teamwork environment. Therefore, guiding students working collaboratively within a project team is one of the major tasks in supervising student projects.

How to manage an IT project team in real workplace has been well documented in many publications (eg, Gustafson, 2002; Hall, 1998; Hartley, 2003; Jones, 1994; Pressman, 2001; Sommerville, 2001). However, managing a student IT project team is significantly different from managing a real project in a workplace.

Firstly, the purpose of a student project is to provide students an analogous environment to learn project management skills and work effectively in a team environment. Therefore, faults are expected and tolerable during the course. Actually, students can learn more practical knowledge from their mistakes. In contrast, the purpose of a commercial project in the real world is to get financial gains from delivering a product satisfied with the requirements predefined in the contract between the client and developer. Any fault occurred during the course would cause financial losses to some extent or damages to developer's reputation.

Secondly, the final assessment for a student project is not only based on the completion of the project, but also a number of other aspects of the project during the course, such as project selection and planning, risk identification and mitigation, process management and implementation, quality control and assurance, and collaboration in a teamwork environment. Some student projects with dissatisfaction in their final products can still be considered to pass this subject with project degradation, based on the fact that students have got the necessary practice in project management and development during the project. However, for a commercial project, no such an assessment exists; instead, it is either a success or a failure only based on the final product, regardless other aspects during the course. …

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