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Improving Individual Learning in Software Engineering Team Projects

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Software Engineering Pedagogical Approaches

Tagged Division

Software Engineering Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.716.1 - 23.716.11



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Paper Authors


Joanna F. DeFranco Pennsylvania State University

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Joanna F. DeFranco is Assistant Professor of Software Engineering and a member of the Graduate Faculty at The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to joining Penn State, she held faculty positions at Cabrini College and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She also held a number of positions in industry and government including an Electronics Engineer for the Naval Air Development Center in Warminster, PA and a Software Engineer at Motorola in Horsham, Pa.
Dr. DeFranco received her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Penn State University, M.S. in Computer Engineering from Villanova University, and Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. She is a member of ASEE and has had numerous publications in journals and conference proceedings. She is also on the curriculum advisory board for a local technical high school.

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Colin J. Neill Pennsylvania State University

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Colin J. Neill, associate professor of software engineering and systems engineering and Director of Engineering at Penn State Great Valley, earned his Ph.D. in software and systems engineering, M.Sc. in communication systems, and B.Eng. in electrical and electronic engineering from the University of Wales, Swansea, United Kingdom. He teaches a wide range of software and systems engineering courses in design, architecture, project management, systems thinking, and IT strategy. He has written more than seventy articles on software design, architecture, process, and management, and serves as associate editor-in-chief of Innovations in Software and Systems Engineering.

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Improving Individual Learning in Software Engineering Team ProjectsTeam-based projects are frequently included in software engineering courses, and for a numberof reasons. Educators integrate team projects into the curriculum to emulate real worlddevelopment situations, expose students to the challenges and benefits of team-working, andallow students to tackle problems of larger scales and complexities than they could otherwise doalone. Furthermore, there is evidence that collaborative learning methods are more effectivethan the traditional teacher-centered methodology 3,4. Finally, the Accreditation Board forEngineering and Technology (ABET) expects students to gain proficiency in team work5. Whilethe reasons for their inclusion are numerous, team-based projects, and team-based assessments inparticular, are not without their problems.A primary focus of our research has been in addressing the difficulties students experience inteam-working, and in developing a framework of guidelines and practices that facilitate effectiveteams. These have been successful with respect to team performance and project outcomes, butas our studies have progressed we have discovered that individual learning of team members isnot positively impacted in the ways we had anticipated. While team cognition is evident, andteams following the collaboration framework experience greater mindshare as measured throughmental model convergence, individually the students are not experiencing significant gains intheir understanding of the course content, despite it directly relating to the work of their teams.In essence, the old saw “that an effective team is greater than the sum of its parts” appears tohold true, but as we know our education system concerns individual achievement and learning.In this research our focus is on determining the factors to facilitate both team success andindividual learning during team-oriented project-based learning. Of particular interest is theefficacy of collaborative learning approaches in general for engineering students. This is anessential question to determine whether team projects should be limited in the individualassessment of students. 1. M. Bass, Monitoring GSD projects via shared mental models: A suggested approach, Proc 2006 Int Workshop Global Software Dev Practitioner, Shanghai, China, 2006, pp. 34–37. 2. 2. J. Espinosa, R.E. Kraut, F.J. Lerch, S.A. Slaughter, J. Herbsleb, and A. Mockus, Shared mental models and coordination in largescale, distributed software development, Proc Int Conf Inform Syst, New Orleans, LA, December 16–19, 2001. 3. 17. Schroeder, C. M., Scott, T. P., Tolson, H., Huang, T., & Lee, Y. (2007). A meta- analysis of national research: Effects of teaching strategies on student achievement in science in the United States. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 57(10), 149–174. 4. 18. Springer, L., Donovan, S. S., & Stanne, M. E. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69(1), 21–51. 5. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc., “Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs”,, ABET, 2012.

DeFranco, J. F., & Neill, C. J. (2013, June), Improving Individual Learning in Software Engineering Team Projects Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19730

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