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From Requirements to Code: Issues and Learning in IS Students' Systems Development Projects

Journal of Information Technology Education Volume 7, ISSN 1547-9714


The Computing Curricula (2005) place Information Systems (IS) at the intersection of exact sciences (e.g. General Systems Theory), technology (e.g. Computer Science), and behavioral sciences (e.g. Sociology). This presents particular challenges for teaching and learning, as future IS professionals need to be equipped with a wide range of analytical and critical thinking skills that will enable them to solve business problems. In addition, they require technical, strong interpersonal communication, and team skills to contribute to the successful delivery of software products. At the University of Cape Town (UCT) the capstone course of the IS undergraduate curriculum is structured around three main areas: Project Management; People Management; and Implementation. The theoretical parts of this course introduce the student to important aspects of managing projects and people in the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Project environment. The practical part comprises a group systems development project, which forms a core part of the course and requires students to apply theoretical skills in a real-world context. Although the impact of the issues relating to soft skills on student learning is neither underestimated nor ignored in the course, this paper mainly focuses on the technical issues that are experienced during the life of the projects. Students generally experience difficulty in the areas of problem-solving, coding and testing, all of which are required for successful systems development. IS students are often less technically oriented than their counterparts in the other computing disciplines and their courses involve less technical content. As a result, they may be inadequately prepared for the technical demands of the project. IS professionals must be able to interact with business experts and apply problem-solving skills in developing possible solutions. It is thus reasonable to argue that the completion of a full life cycle of a project provide IS students with invaluable experience in testing the effectiveness of their proposed solution. A reflective approach has been applied to the course design, resulting in the development of a framework to sufficiently address the issues of problem-solving, coding, and testing through an action learning cycle. This approach has proved to lead to improved solutions and to encourage deep learning. It also shows how teaching practices are shaped by looking back reflexively of student learning and the facilitating environments. This paper describes how the course has evolved through four phases, culminating in an approach that guides students in transcending from the basic level of following, through detachment towards fluency. In this fourth and current phase two pilot projects have been included to develop a framework or pattern that will provide students with a sound basis for developing their own software system in the second part of the course. This framework uses a methodology to structure large software-intensive systems into modular components that can be developed and maintained independently. It follows a recursive process where students first develop an independent component, and then add a dependent component to form a larger but again independent component. The repetitive implementing of the framework through three iterations (two pilot projects and final group project) promotes the transfer of skills and problem-solving techniques to similar situations and problems and aids students to overcome their fears and anxieties when faced with problem situations. Several relevant studies have been undertaken over the years to encourage and support the critical reflective approach, deep learning, and improved solutions. A longitudinal study was conducted in 2007 to determine the readiness of project teams to start the building phase by the end of the first semester of the group project. This study will be extended to evaluate the impact of the improvements made during the fourth phase of the project, with specific reference to the issues identified in this paper. (Contains 2 tables.)


Scott, E. (2008). From Requirements to Code: Issues and Learning in IS Students' Systems Development Projects. Journal of Information Technology Education, 7, 1-13. Retrieved February 23, 2020 from .

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