Semester Project

Many of our upper-division Informatics and Computer Science courses include an applied educational component in the form of a collaborative semester project. This applied educational componet is designed to serve two primary purposes:

  • To provide students with an opportunity for practical application of knowledge, i.e., a hands-on component
  • To help students develop their collaborative skills.

The project is designed to engage students in tasks that apply the skills and content learned in class within a real-world context for learning. Project-based learning requires students to deal with complex questions and undertake projects that involve synthesizing understandings and considering real-world issues. The opportunity to apply learning to a real-life situation facilitates the transfer of learning.

Group work is required for those intending to enter any IT-related profession and is necessary to derive maximum benefit from courses, particularly those involving systems analysis and design. The prevalence of teamwork in industry makes it incumbent upon universities to better prepare students for real life projects. The “Ability to work in a team structure” leads the Forbes list of ten skills employers most want in 2015 graduates. In another study, Inside Higher Ed reports that the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) surveyed employers and found they are more concerned about new graduates having a range of skills in areas like communication and team work than they are with a student’s major. Clearly employers want new hires that have developed the skill necessary to work in teams, and it is essential that group work be incorporated into a variety of courses.

It is difficult to find a project that is broad enough to cover all the topics but at the same time also narrow enough to cover them thoroughly in a one semester course. One alternative is the use of individual “toy” problems for each concept, but that approach has been criticized as simplifying problems to the point where they are no longer realistic and lack useful substance. Another alternative is to use real-world projects in a class, but that approach can introduce unmanageable complexity or ambiguity into the classroom.

Over the course of several years the professor has developed and refined a course project that provides a project-based learning component to cover and reinforce every major concept in a systems analysis and design course. It provides students with experience with each concept, and has been refined over the course of multiple semesters.

Unlike a “live” or real world problem, project complexity is controlled by the professor and the project is able to involve all course concepts that the professor wants to reinforce. Unlike most toy problems this project takes an imposing system to completion. Because of the complexity and size of the project it is made up of a series of deliverables. Students start with one deliverable and continue to build upon and enhance that deliverable through each stage of the requirements. In this way students gain experience developing a larger, more realistic system than most course projects allow.

Teams will consist of four students. Since individuals are best at determining those whose schedules and personalities meshes best with yours, students will arrange their own teams. Be sure to seel out teammates with similar goals and work ehtics. For example, ask if the potential team members are willing to work hard for an A or are more than happy to settle for a C. Having similar goals and willingness to work make a huge difference in whether the team is compatible!

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