Industrial Software Support Network - Year 2 Report (April 1998).

Reporting Period: April 1997-April 1998.
Activities and progress made during the reporting period

1. Introduction.

The appointment of the full project team was unfortunately delayed due to the difficulty of recruiting a suitably qualified candidate for the key lecturer appointment. Thus the first eight months of the project were not able to achieve all of the initial objectives according to the original schedule. Nevertheless a great deal was achieved and is detailed below.


The appointment of Mr. Andy Stratton as the lecturer for the project in July 1997 has allowed for rapid progress to become possible and the project is now, more or less on schedule.


2. Summary of progress to date.

The key achievements include the production of the first CD and the organisation of the first Project '98 Workshop. The team has also produced a book on the work of the project and related issues to be published later this year by Springer-Verlag. It is thought to be the first book by an internationally renowned publisher to have been produced by an FDTL project. Other key activities have been the development of an innovative level 4 course arising directly from the work of the project in bringing industrial projects into the university curriculum. The recognised strengths of the group in developing state of the art courses in advanced software engineering and the interfacing of industrial courses into the curriculum have been built upon by the extension and development of the two key project based activities, the Software Hut (Level 2) and the MSc Maxi project.


The development of the database of contacts has begun and the viability of a video conferencing facility for use in the project has been demonstrated.


3. Deliverables. 1997-8.

The first year and a half of the plan involved the following activities, quoted directly from the original proposal:


"....5. Project deliverables.

5.1. A database of clients and contacts from UK industry willing to provide meaningful group software projects for students. [Years 1-3].

5.2. A series of electronic publications (some on CD-ROM), providing support information on running such projects, examples of student work and software, articles sharing experiences of this type of activity, etc. [Years 1-3].

5.2.1. A guide to the basic issues involved in the introduction of practical industrial project work, including the problems associated with finding a client and setting up a project, defining the learning outcomes and the assessment criteria, managing the project, monitoring and quality control, examples of problems that can arise and their possible solution, some descriptions of successful projects and student and client opinion on the experience and a discussion of IPR issues. [Year 1]

.

5.2.2. A detailed educational report on the setting of aims and objectives for live projects, assessment criteria and assessment schemes that have been useful, relating the project to other parts of the course, a discussion of the most appropriate training needs of students and staff involved. [Year 2].

5.2.3. A report describing in some detail successful projects run in a variety of universities with a commentary on the issues and problems involved. [Years 2 & 3].

5.2.4. A final report on CD-ROM incorporating all of the previous reports, revised in the light of further developments and experiences with examples of software developed by student groups and articles and other material explaining the achievements of the programme written from the perspective of the student (both while at university and after going into industry), the academic and the industrialist. [Year 3].

5.3. Two conferences, possibly involving video conference facilities, focusing on the issues and experiences of carrying out industrial student projects. These conferences would involve both staff and students and a number of student bursaries would be available to support visits by students from a cross-section of universities to the conferences. [Years 2 & 3].

5.4. An electronic network of interested staff, students and industrialists from across the country. [Years 1-3].

5.5. An evaluation of the programme. [Year 3].


[Summary of deliverables.]

Year 1. Setting up of network (5.4), development of database (5.1), preparation of first report (5.2.1).

Year 2. Further development of network and database, report (5.2.2), conference (5.3).

Year 3. Further development of network and database, reports (5.2.3, 5.2.4, 5.5), conference (5.3)...."


Project deliverables achieved during the year.

3.1. A database of clients and contacts from UK industry willing to provide meaningful group software projects for students. [Years 1-3]. This has been begun through a process of telephone calling and advertising. It will be extended through writing to potential contacts enclosing the CD.

3.2. A series of electronic publications (some on CD-ROM), providing support information on running such projects, examples of student work and software, articles sharing experiences of this type of activity, etc. [Years 1-3]. The first CD has been produced (details below) and is being circulated. The contents of the CD are available here.

3.3. A guide to the basic issues involved in the introduction of practical industrial project work, including the problems associated with finding a client and setting up a project, defining the learning outcomes and the assessment criteria, managing the project, monitoring and quality control, examples of problems that can arise and their possible solution, some descriptions of successful projects and student and client opinion on the experience [Year 1]. This has been achieved through the publication of the CD (see Section 3.2) and three papers given at the Project '98 Workshop. These papers will also be appearing in the Workshop book, to be published later this year by Springer-Verlag, see [1], [2], [3]. The contents of the book are based on the conference programme which can be found here.

3.4. A detailed educational report on the setting of aims and objectives for live projects, assessment criteria and assessment schemes that have been useful, relating the project to other parts of the course, a discussion of the most appropriate training needs of students and staff involved. [Year 2]. This is partly covered by Section 3.3 and is also ongoing. 3.5. A conference focusing on the issues and experiences of carrying out industrial and other student projects in computing. The conference involved both staff and students (a number of student bursaries were made available to support visits by students). [Year 2]. The conference was attended by 50 people including 5 from overseas and a cross section of UK universities. (See Section 3.3).


Other achievements:

* setting up a novel new course developing students' business skills in the context of running their own software companies;

* the seminar course in Advanced Software Engineering was further developed;

* video conferencing technology was demonstrated in the Department and is being evaluated for installation in two sites.


4. The CD.


The CD contains the following material:

4.1. The project objectives and list of deliverables.

4.2. A description of the industrial software project course including material on the setting of aims and objectives for this sort of course, a discussion of assessment and a distillation of experiences obtained, including the problems encountered and their solutions, during nearly 10 years of running these courses. Examples of student work is also included, this comprises detailed technical information generated by student teams in developing solutions for their business clients and examples of screen shots of completed systems. A frank assessment by a student of the experience that they had on the course is also included.

4.3. An article on the innovative seminar course on Advanced Software Engineering developed by the team. This includes a discussion of the aims and objectives of such a course together with ideas for assessing the student work. A large number of student seminar papers and essays are also included.

4.4. An outline of a new type of advanced course that has been set up with support from the project team this academic year. The course has been developed as part of the 4th year MEng degree and involves the students setting up their own software company and carrying out projects for their own clients. This is in response to the widely expressed view that university courses are not providing an adequate understanding of the business context in a meaningful way. This view has been expressed by many industrialists but is also highlighted in the Dearing Report and in the SARTOR report of the Engineering Council as well as regularly appearing in the media. The project team devised the curriculum design and assessment procedures, assisted them in developing the structures and management processes for the companies and introduced them to potential clients. The team also monitored and advised the students on a daily basis. This has been an outstanding success and is the subject of a paper [1]. It has also been extended to involve the Department's Advanced Software Engineering MSc, here some students have opted to run the companies during the summer as their dissertation project.


5. The book.

The book is a collection of refereed articles on the use of projects in the computing curriculum. It is featuring a number of papers written as a result of this project and will bring to an international audience much of the innovative teaching approaches being pioneered by this project and two other FDTL projects (EPCOS and PROF@T).


6. The database of contacts.


The main phase of the development of this database has now begun The initial stages were developed through personal contact through telephone calling (see [3]) and then evolved through the use of specialised advertising. With the production of the CD we will be entering a new strategy which will be by sending the CD together with a carefully designed questionnaire to selected organisations and individuals. This will raise the profile of the project further within industry and provide a resource that will enable other universities to develop client contacts to assist in similar courses.


7. Curriculum development.


The new course involving student run companies has been briefly described in section 5. Other developments have included revising the assessment of the Maxi Project and extending the management of the Software Hut to cope with a major increase of the student numbers. This has resulted in the use of 3 clients concurrently and this has created a number of specific problems that have been solved. This experience will enable us to provide further advice concerning the use of industrial projects for larger classes. The Advanced Software Engineering seminar course has also been updated during this year.


8. Management of the project.


A management group consisting of Prof. M. Holcombe (Project director), A. Stratton (Project lecturer) and M. Willett (Project administrator) meet every week to review activities. An advisory committee has been set up and has met once so far. It will be meeting twice yearly. It consists of the project team, members of the Department, a representative of the Faculty of Engineering, a representative of a major international software company, a representative of the British Computer Society (also representing a local computing company), and representatives from other universities. >The minutes of this meeting are attached.


Plans for the next 12 months.


The first main task is to circulate the CD to a wide audience together with a questionnaire. One target audience is a number of key individuals in the principal software companies. The purpose of this is to draw to their attention the work of the project and to encourage them to consider becoming more involved in university education and student projects. The questionnaire will seek to establish their views on the sort of practical project work that they think potential employees should be undertaking during their higher education and to identify practical ways in which they could help, through dialogue, collaborative projects and other activities. The other main audience is university computer science departments. Here the CD will also highlight what has been achieved and what is possible. The questionnaire for this target audience will focus on identifying the extent to which industrial software projects are undertaken in their department, what the obstacles are, if any, to such projects and to identify the sort of support that might be needed to establish successful industrial projects in their department. This will be carried out during May and June 1998.


The database of clients will be developed further, incorporating areas further from Sheffield, and, making this information available over the WWW. This is an ongoing process, with an initial version of the web based database available by April 1999.


Following the successful Project '98 Workshop we hope to set up a mailing list of academics and others interested in computing projects in universities. This will be started by July 1998.


The curriculum developments, the extension of the Software Hut to a larger cohort of students, the new student company modules and the MSc Maxi projects will also be developed further.


The video conferencing facility will be fully established this year.


Section B - Commentary and Future Development

Learning from activities and progress made during the reporting period.


As has been described above, the differences between the original plan and the actual events was caused by problems in recruiting the key academic staff. In fact we have made up for most of the lost ground and this has been achieved by virtue of a lot of hard work by the team. We have also done other things in addition to what was proposed, for example the development of the student companies - which have been universally praised by both industry and academic commentators.


We have managed to use the project to support the curriculum development of the 4th year student company scheme. This was due to the collaboration of the project team and the observation that some of the clients for the student companies were found through the client searching procedures for the software hut (some clients had problems that were more suitable for the 4th year students than for the 2nd year students).


References.

[1] M. Holcombe and A. Stratton, "VICI: Experiences and Proposals for Student run Software companies." in Projects in the Computing Curriculum. M. Holcombe, A. Stratton, S. Fincher. G. Griffiths (eds.), Springer-Verlag, (in press.), 1998.

[2] S. Price, "The Sheffield University Maxi Project - the Industrial Project Manager's Perspective." in Projects in the Computing Curriculum. M. Holcombe, A. Stratton, S. Fincher. G. Griffiths (eds.), Springer-Verlag, (in press.), 1998.

[3] A. Stratton, M. Holcombe and P. Croll, "Improving the Quality of Software Engineering Courses through University based Industrial projects." in Projects in the Computing Curriculum. M. Holcombe, A. Stratton, S. Fincher and G. Griffiths (eds.), Springer-Verlag, (in press.), 1998.