Kevin Gary from Arizona State University presented Contextual Requirements within the Software Enterprise at REET’09. He discussed their approach in having a multi-year project-based engineering course sequence, allowing for iterative exposure to all concepts – but particularly of interest: requirements engineering. This very much fits with popular learning theory – the idea we need to put concepts in front of students repetitively for them to really learn them. For their projects, they reach out to industry to find candidate projects so the students get to work with real subject experts to solve real problems, ultimately producing real deliverables. What I like about his style is that he is less interested in whether the company gets their perfect solution out of this work and instead he is more interested in whether the student is learning the concepts. But in reality, it sounds like the companies are getting a lot of value out of it!
One of the challenges Kevin spoke to involves how you assess students in courses like these. One thing I do like that I haven’t seen often is that he tries to check in with industry managers that hire his students to see if they are coming out of the ASU program more prepared.
So what I like about Kevin’s discussion first of all is that assessment of students is hard! We see that too and it was a big topic in an REET panel later in the week at RE’09. But I really think it’s great to see universities with programs really aimed at setting the students up for success in industry after graduation. And the final point I’ll make is that he’s absolutely right about needing students to practice the lessons lectured and hear them more than once. I think this is a major flaw in much of the requirements training offered to industry right now. We send students in for a class and then expect them to get it all – typically without revisiting the materials again.