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Order Out Of Chaos: A Chart To Help The Design Of Project Based Courses

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Motivating Students to Achieve

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.970.1 - 9.970.7

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Paper Authors

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David Socha

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Valentin Razmov

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

Session 3475

Order Out Of Chaos: A Table to Help the Design of Project-Based Courses David Socha§†, Valentin Razmov§ § Department of Computer Science & Engineering † Center for Urban Simulation and Policy Analysis University of Washington, Seattle { socha, valentin } @


The project-based software engineering course that we teach uses several different teaching methods to instruct students in a large number of reflective and analytical techniques. These techniques help the students learn how to work in teams and on projects. As we, instructors, were preparing to teach the course for a third time, we had to sort out a confusion in the course design, brought about by the presence of many techniques taught in many ways. We devised a method to organize these techniques by scope (for individuals, teams, projects, systems) on one axis, and by how they were taught (as mini-lectures, homework assignments, project experience, coaching sessions, experiential sessions, etc.) on another axis. This enabled us to see “holes” in our course design that were not obvious before. As a result, we adjusted our priorities accordingly and focused our efforts. This paper shows how we evolved the course structure, discusses how this process helped and surprised us, and speculates about how the structure may be applied to other courses that wish to create a multi-faceted learning environment.

1. Introduction and Context

Our goal when teaching software engineering is to educate the students to appreciate the importance of the human aspects of software development. In particular, our industry experience indicates that software engineering is characterized by people working together under pressure to deliver value to their customers.

Our tactic for teaching this is to create an environment that simulates an industrial experience, but where the success metric is how much students learn, not whether the project they deliver is “successful.” In particular, we have students organize into large project teams (of 15 or more). These large teams usually lead to the students adopting a hierarchical organization, with leadership roles and component sub-teams within the project team. As a result, students encounter many of the inter-personal issues that exist in all workplaces, and are forced to deal with the gamut of team and project coordination issues that determine the success or failure of virtually all projects.

An important aspect for the success of this type of course is to make sure that the students realize how much they have learned despite the frustrations of dealing with the complexities and emotional issues of large teams. Thus, our course emphasizes teaching a variety of reflective techniques6,4 so that students (and instructors) can identify what they have learned, including

Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education

Socha, D., & Razmov, V. (2004, June), Order Out Of Chaos: A Chart To Help The Design Of Project Based Courses Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah.

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