Web ACE-A Study in Reciprocal Informing

By Miliszewska, Iwona; Tan, Grace | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2004 | Go to article overview

Web ACE-A Study in Reciprocal Informing


Miliszewska, Iwona, Tan, Grace, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

The Computer Science degree at Victoria University is a three-year full time program, and the majority of students enter the course as school-leavers. A significant part of the degree is a final year subject--the Project. The Project, regarded as a 'dress rehearsal' for computing students about to graduate and face the needs of the commercial and industrial world, places special emphasis on consolidation of problem solving skills, and the enhancement of associated communication skills. This emphasis is particularly timely as a national report on Employer Satisfaction with Graduate Skills (AC Nielsen Research Services, 2000) found that Computer Science graduates lacked in both areas. Relatively low ratings were given for both written and oral business communication skills, initiative, leadership qualities, personal presentation, and problem solving skills. The Project provides students with an opportunity to develop and improve these essential skills before they enter the workforce and, as such, it is likely to influence their future employability.

Project students, under the supervision of a staff member, tackle a software development problem for a company or organisation. Typical projects include design and development of database applications, Web based applications, or software modules for computer packages; integration and enhancement of existing software modules; and system analysis and simulation studies of production and inventory systems. Students are divided into groups of three to four members; each group is allocated a project, a sponsor--the client, and an academic supervisor. Each group works on their project, while liaising with the client and consulting with the supervisor, submits reports, and gives presentations. Their work is further helped and scrutinised by the English lecturers who, while not familiar with the computing side of the projects, are language and communication experts. They play a vital role in helping, the often reluctant, computing students realise the importance of good communication skills: the effect of an articulate interview, the impact of well structured and clear reports, and the power of well prepared presentations.

Typically, during the course of the Project subject, students would only learn language and communication skills from their English lecturers and, in turn, the lecturers would only teach those skills, i.e. the roles of the participating parties would be well defined and one-sided. Referring to the Informing Science paradigm, students, as learners/clients, would be on the receiving side of information, and lecturers would play the role of teachers/providers. This division of roles and a single platform of interaction--language and communication--left little, if any, room for reciprocal learning between students and lecturers. Could this reciprocity of roles be realised in the Project environment?

This paper reports on a unique Project experience, which provided an answer to the above challenge. In this instance, students developed a Web based content management system for their English lecturers. The paper identifies the unique opportunities presented by this Project experience, and refers them to related research findings. It describes the development process from its conception to final deployment; the introduction of a second platform of interaction--information technology--that enabled reciprocal teaching and learning; and, the benefits that all participating parties gained from the experience.

The Project

The aim of the Project is to provide students with an opportunity to work on a real-life software development task; to appreciate the needs of the business client for whom they are expected to build the software system; to apply software engineering and database design methodologies to the design and implementation of a complete system; to confront issues developers face on a daily basis, such as liaison with clients, working in a team, and documenting the system; to gain experience in translating their knowledge into practice; and, to obtain feedback concerning their progress from intensive reviews of their work. …

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