Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Insights into Using Agile Development Methods in Student Final Year Projects

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Insights into Using Agile Development Methods in Student Final Year Projects

Article excerpt

Introduction

Students in the Bachelor of Commerce courses in Information Systems, Information Technology and Electronic Commerce (and combinations) in the School of Information Systems at Curtin University are required to undertake a major industry-based system development project in their final year of study. In 2003, the project units were lead by an academic who has a long history of encouraging the use of what are now called variously "Lightweight Methods", or "Agile Methods" of systems development (Fowler, 2000, 2003; Svetinovic & Godfrey, 2003). The student project groups were strongly recommended to undertake their projects in such a manner; incremental development, prototyping approach, early commencement of construction. Rigorous attention to minimal documentation was emphasized (that is, essential to communicate necessary information to future stakeholders, but no more).

Thirty-five student groups, comprising 135 final year students usually in groups of four, commenced an industrial project development activity in March 2003. This project activity is divided into two units, referred to here as ISP391 and ISP392 that run in successive semesters. Contrary to the manner in which prior running of the units was undertaken, the students were specifically required to adopt a different approach to system development, and the project management method previously taught.

The attitudes expressed towards these development methods, the acceptance and adoption, or otherwise, of the methods, and the personal experience, attitudinal and system outcomes of the projects was monitored, partly by regular, weekly or fortnightly "reflective" feedback documents, and a significant questionnaire at the end of the projects.

These comments, reflections and responses have been analyzed and collated, together with personal observations and discussions with students.

Lightweight Development Methods in Student Projects

What we may generally call "lightweight" methods (Fowler, 2003) can be seen to encompass a variety of named approaches and methods. SCRUM (Agile Alliance, 2003; Schwaber & Beedle, 2001), CRYSTAL Methods (Cockburn, 2003), DSDM (DSDM Consortium, 2003), Lean Development (Poppendieck, 2003; Poppendieck & Poppendieck 2003) and Extreme Programming (Extremeprogramming. org, 2003) are all varieties of "agile" development methods, which may also be seen to encompass Rapid Application Development, Rapid Development (McConnell, 1996), and more general terms such as iterative development, incremental development, prototyping (Bemelmans, 1983; Budde, Kuhlenkamp et al, 1984; Burns & Dennis, 1985; Gilhooley, 1986; Hawgood, 1981; Naumann & Jenkins, 1982; Sumner, 1985; Vacca, 1984). All have the same underlying principles of high visibility development, client oriented, iterative, incremental and adaptive.

Other cohorts of project students have been given the opportunity to select their system development approach, but this has been somewhat of a vain option. Teaching of Prototyping, as an example, has been done in one, possibly two lectures in a previous Analysis unit, and has been at least strongly implied as being a minority option to the more acceptable SDLC / Waterfall Approach. Frankly, the students have been given so little information about the alternatives to the SDLC / Waterfall Approach that it was almost inevitable that they chose that option only.

Of greater importance was the fact that it was considered that the students had never been given any realistic information or assumptions that the agile/ rapid /prototyping approaches were in fact industrially acceptable. The immediate acceptance of the view that "It is OK to develop in a 'lightweight' manner" was just not prevalent. A heavily document oriented approach has always been emphasized as the right thing to do. In fact, the projects are divided into 2 separate units that run sequentially, and the first unit has always been seen as the "Analysis & Design" phase, with the construction activity restricted to the second semester. …

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