Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Experiencing the Elicitation of User Requirements and Recording Them in Use Case Diagrams through Role-Play

Academic journal article Journal of Information Systems Education

Experiencing the Elicitation of User Requirements and Recording Them in Use Case Diagrams through Role-Play

Article excerpt


Instructors of systems analysis and design (SA&D) courses endeavor to prepare their students for the job of analyzing live systems in industry. Many SA&D courses leverage lectures and case studies to achieve those goals. However, a student may gain confidence for a future career by being immersed in simulated real-world experiences. In this paper we describe a simulated Joint Application Development (JAD) session that was used to familiarize students with eliciting user requirements for a new system, and the documenting of those requirements in use cases.

Typically SA&D courses teach at least one methodology for developing systems, and that methodology incorporates some form of graphical modelling. In recent years many SA&D courses have featured object-orientation as the dominant software development paradigm, a choice that reflects software developers' positive perceptions of object-oriented (OO) software development (Fedorowicz and Villeneuve, 1999; Johnson, 2000; Johnson and Hardgrave, 1999). Many of the SA&D courses that study the OO paradigm utilize the Unified Modeling Language (UML) to document the static and dynamic features of systems. Although the original authors of UML intended it to be a language to support OO SA&D (Booch, Rumbaugh, and Jacobson, 1999), one of its original nine diagrams, the use case, is not OO, and could be used to capture user requirements for non-OO software development. UML is being applied in industry, with some diagrams more popular than others. Use case usage is eclipsed only by that of the class diagram (Dobing and Parsons, 2006, 2008).

This paper provides an example of how role-play may be used to simulate the real-world and provide non-threatening practice for students to elicit user requirements during a JAD session, and document those requirements in use cases. The role-play has been successfully applied in second year university SA&D courses. Students were surveyed following the role-play experience to obtain their perceptions of the exercise. The time, effort, and creativity required to develop this exercise was richly rewarded by the positive student responses.

The remainder of the paper is as follows: Section 2 discusses requirements elicitation and use case documentation. A brief description of cognitive theory follows, providing an introduction to experiential learning through role-play. A description of the research methodology, including the tutorial in which role-play is used to introduce the students to the extraction of user requirements from customers, is covered in Section 3. Section 4 provides and discusses the results of the interviews with the supervising tutors, and the students' survey. Section 5 covers possible limitations of the findings.


2.1 JAD as a Method for Requirements Elicitation

It is crucial that users' requirements be correctly specified in order for software to be successfully delivered. Most introductory SA&D courses present methods such as interviews, observation, and surveys, for gathering requirements, yet, in practice, students are often asked to extract system requirements from written narratives. The eliciting of information from users and the resolution of conflicts are frequently absent, although may be exercised in live project courses which typically occur in more advanced studies. It would be advantageous for students to practice requirements elicitation in a simulated environment prior to being exposed to live situations.

As JAD is a popular requirements elicitation method in industry (Costain, 2008), it is likely to be encountered by students in their future roles as systems analysts. Originally developed for internal use at IBM in the late 1970s, JAD is a facilitated, face-to-face, group session for specifying requirements, typically attended by users, developers, and managers (Duggan and Thachenkary, 2003). …

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