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An Assessment Strategy For A Capstone Course In Software And Computer Engineering

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

SE Curriculum and Course Management

Tagged Division

Software Engineering Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.181.1 - 14.181.12

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Paper Authors

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Richard Stansbury Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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Massood Towhidnejad Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

AN ASSESSMENT STRATEGY FOR A CAPSTONE COURSE IN SOFTWARE AND COMPUTER ENGINEERING Richard Stansbury and Massood Towhidnejad Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Daytona Beach, FL 32114

{stansbur, towhid}


The assessment of individual student work on team projects is challenging. Ideally, every student would work toward the project goals with an equal level of effort resulting in all students in the course sharing the same final grade for the project. Unfortunately, this is not realistic. In this paper, a number of approaches to student assessment including peer and leader evaluation, ranking systems, etc. are discussed. Based on some of these ideas and the goal of providing students with frequent feedback, a new assessment approach for the computer and software engineering senior design course at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is presented, which utilizes rubrics to judge each student’s personal contribution and frequent delivery of the assessment so that students may iteratively improve their performance. This approach is evaluated versus the previous, a more highly subjective, assessment approach for this course. The paper concludes with a discussion of how this process will be implemented for later years.


At Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), Daytona Beach campus, two courses, CEC 420/421: Computer System Design Lab and SE 450/451: Software Team Project, comprise the two halves of a single year-long capstone course provided by the Department of Computer and Software Engineering. There is typically a significantly higher number of software engineering students versus computer engineering students. The course also invites participants from other departments such as human factors in order to encourage a multidisciplinary teaming environment.

From past experience, it has been found that assessment of individual student performance on a large group project is difficult. Ideally, every student would work toward the project goals with an equal level of effort resulting in all students in the course sharing the same final grade for the project. Unfortunately, this is not realistic. To distinguish between the individual contribution of each student, typically, self evaluation, peer evaluation, or team lead evaluation are used. However, this approach is also flawed. For instance, one major problem is that students tend to normalize their peer evaluations, which results in team members evaluating their peers above average (unless there is a student that has not contributed at all). For self evaluations, students typically provide themselves with a higher evaluation than is likely deserved.

To remedy these problems, the instructor may introduce a subjective evaluation for each student based on the instructor’s observations. Typically, there is not a formal representation of this subjective component to the grade. As a result, the grading criteria and expectations are never

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