A Web-based tool for software project coursework: requirements, validation and implementation

Y T Yu, M Y Choy, E Y K Chan and Y T Lo
City University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

The high speed information transfer capability of the Internet has been changing the way people communicate. Web-based communications are more convenient and flexible as they can be asynchronous and independent of the physical locations of the participants. Moreover, people can retrieve information instantly from the Web and acquire new knowledge through it. Such a change has opened up tremendous opportunities for improving the way education takes place. In particular, Web-based teaching and learning (WebTL) systems has facilitated the engagement of students from different places and at different times. These systems, such as WebCT, Blackboard and Moodle, are now popular and heavily used in universities and other tertiary institutions in both Hong Kong and overseas.

WebTL systems have benefited not only distance education courses, which by their nature have limited face-to-face contact hours, but also on-campus courses taken by a mix of full-time and part-time students. A WebTL system provides a course-specific place for the instructor to communicate with students (e.g. by answering queries), the dissemination of course materials, and coursework management and assessment. Also, students can communicate with classmates, within or among groups, via an online discussion forum in the system.

Discussions are more effective for learning if they are focused, engaging and collaborative, and researchers have investigated and analysed students' participation and motivation in online discussions. For example, Wu and Hiltz 2004) found that, to improve learning, students expect instructors to provide 'more interesting topics to guide the online discussion, such as case studies'. The authors' experience has indicated that students are more motivated to learn from discussions and collaboration when these activities are linked to course-specific goals, notably coursework assessment. While there are problem-based learning tools, few of these are specifically designed for software development project work.

In this paper, the authors describe a group project management tool which is specifically built for software development courses. Deployed as a plug-in to the Blackboard e-learning system, the tool supplements the latter by providing course-specific support for teaching and learning resources, project-based discussions, asynchronous peer reviews and continuous assessment. These resources and activities serve to promote a quality-centric attitude and notion that is heavily emphasized in modern software engineering collaborative work. The experience of tool development, including its planning, requirements, validation and implementation is presented, and related work discussed.