LEARNING SOFTWARE PRODUCTION BY PROJECT AND ACTION: CASE STUDY AND LESSONS LEARNT
Our context is the teaching of software production at the license level of a technical institute. Software production gathers together many knowledge and know-how in computer science i.e. managing projects, designing and developing the functionalities (data and programs) and the human-computer interfaces of the software.
The difficulties are:
1) the mobilization of already acquired knowledge and know-how,
2) their application in a realistic situation and
3) the need to acquire new knowledge in semi-autonomy.
Our goal is to increase students’ creativity and self-confidence in the application phase of learning.
So we introduced pedagogy based on project and action. The learners had to develop in group of 6/7 students a complete website in a domain large enough to permit various solutions. At the beginning, students had to be creative to find innovative needs or requirements. Then they developed the technical solution i.e. the website with its specifications.
We followed the 5 key-principles of gamification:
• The learners’ choice must have a significant effect: in our case, students can choice the services and human-computer interfaces of their website;
• The teaching situation in the game must be contextualized: here, students are considered as professional development teams who have to develop the website;
• The game must be credible: there is a real need for such a website and there does not exist a site which answer to the given requirements;
• There must exist several success ways: many different approaches services and look and feel can be explored for the website.
• Gamer must be able to define his/her own objectives. At the beginning students have to define the specifications of their own website based on their choices.
Moreover we added some challenges by rewarding the three best technical projects and the three best “project sellers”. We also organized an evaluation where students had to play the role of sellers. In this situation, they were in front of a non-academic jury composed of professionals.
Approximately 90 students took part of the case study during 15 weeks, with 10 teachers. Teachers had expertise in computer science, but also in project management and communication. Their role was not traditional as they play the role of "experts" and are available to answer questions on demand.
At the end of the course, we proposed to the student to fulfill a questionnaire to drive a qualitative analysis of the feedbacks. The students mainly approved the organization of the teaching activities, even if they noticed some difficulties, such as: the granted freedom led to the risk of discovering troubles lately, they felt to lack support in managing the group. These remarks will allow us to improve the next session of the course.
This case study has changed the students’ approach and behavior relatively to courses and teachers. They had the opportunity of putting together various courses and got a better perspective of each of them relatively to the others. It also has modified students’ and teachers’ engagement, increasing curiosity and satisfaction. The students showed a great (and unusual) involvement in this project: some of them wanted to continue the work after the end. The objective of self-confidence improvement is achieved and the rewarded students are now competing on a national challenge. We were also surprised by their creativity while selling their work to professionals.