June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
11.615.1 - 11.615.12
Experiences with Agile Teaching in Project-Based Courses
In this paper we describe an agile teaching methodology as applied to project-based software engineering courses. We take the term “agile” from the popular software development methodology that emphasizes short feedback cycles, flexibility, and direct involvement of the customer. Our software engineering courses are goal-driven, we include structural mechanisms to support feedback, and we design the projects around frequent checkpoints. The course content is adaptable to student needs and changing situations. After giving an overview of agile teaching, we address specific issues of course structure for supporting feedback, how we act on student feedback, and the mechanisms for collecting just-in-time feedback. The paper concludes with a discussion of the impact on instructors and students, as well as of results from polling our colleagues on their teaching practices in similar courses.
Feedback is important for adaptation and learning. Instructors who receive feedback can more effectively tailor their teaching to student needs. Students who receive feedback have an opportunity to see more ways to improve, because there are more open (feedback) channels to offer them guidance. Therefore, more frequent feedback can translate into more opportunities for both sides.
Learning is a continuous process, the individual steps of which may often be imperceptibly small to the learner7. Its intensity depends on at least two factors: the student’s engagement (“doing”) and the amount of feedback – positive affirmation or corrective guidance – that the student receives. To provide tailored instruction and relevant advice, instructors in turn need to be aware of student needs and how they evolve over time, so instructors themselves have to seek feedback in order to stay current.
The premise of our work is that increased student involvement and relevance of classroom discussions and projects leads to improved learning. As students hit roadblocks, they discover areas where they lack knowledge and skills. If instructors have a mechanism to find out that this is happening, they can take advantage of such teaching moments – when goal-oriented, targeted feedback can be particularly effective, since it would address an existing need.
Typically, however, not all students hit the same roadblocks, and certainly not all at the same time. Each individual comes with a unique background and learning style, so there are clear benefits to a personalized approach to teaching. Furthermore, with different challenges faced by different students, a flexible approach that takes into account those differences in the learners’ needs would produce superior results. As Kent Beck put it3, “noticing when a learner doesn’t have a tool they need or isn’t using a tool they already have” is key to effective teaching.
Razmov, V., & Anderson, R. (2006, June), Experiences With Agile Teaching In Project Based Courses Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--1018
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