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Student Satisfaction Using Real Projects For Object-Oriented and Database Design By: Lisa M. MacLean Assistant Professor Department of Computer Science and Systems Wentworth Institute of Technology 550 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA 02115 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Michael Werner, PhD. Professor Department of Computer Science Systems Wentworth Institute of Technology 550 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA 02115 E-mail: email@example.com Student Satisfaction Using Real Projects For Object-Oriented and Database Design ABSTRACT In this economy, computer science graduates can command starting salaries in excess of $50,000. Employers expect graduates to perform right out of the starting gate. It is increasingly important for educators to provide opportunities for students to position themselves for success in these demanding conditions. Also, as students entering have grown up with technology, they are better prepared on entering computer programs than previous classes, meaning educators must challenge them more and often eliminate beginning material. Students themselves are savvy as education consumers, and demand increasing value for their tuition. One way to meet all these conditions is by using real projects in the class as opposed to cases. INTRODUCTION with their work and have practical experience to place on their resumes. Software Design and Development and Advanced Database Applications are 500-level Some of the real projects in Software Design courses taught at Wentworth Institute of and Development: Technology in Boston, MA. Introduction to Programming logic, several programming 1. A database for a bowling league designed to courses, Introductory Database Systems and track league members, set up teams for bowling Systems Analysis and Design, are all meets by matching players by ability, record prerequisites for the advanced courses. This scores, etc. assures a solid grounding in the concepts needed to complete a real-life project. 2. A database system designed to track and report on the delivery of services to homeless In these two classes, group projects demonstrate people by a local shelter. the practical application of analysis and design techniques. The projects are built for an actual 3. A room reservation system for a non-profit customer with the expectation that the system retreat and conference center. will be deployed upon completion. The project either must be internal to the institute or else for 4. A system for the college placement office to an external non-profit organization. enter job openings and make them available to students whom were qualified access the listings Students are expected to work in groups to by submitting resumes and attending produce a large-scale, fully functioning two- or orientations. three-tier database system. Previous course sections were allowed to choose a case study on 5. A student information system to allow their own. When students expressed students to access their transcripts, schedules, dissatisfaction that they expended a good deal of grades and financial status using the Internet. effort for a project that merely went away, effort was put forth to identify real world problems. 6. An extensible CASE system to allow future software design students to create graphics and In our experience the real projects generate repositories of design data following various much more enthusiasm, involve greater methodologies and generate source code. complexity and better prepare the students who participate in them. Students are more satisfied All of the above projects offered good opportunities to demonstrate object-oriented analysis and design techniques. In each case a design that was later used. However, real customer was identified at the beginning deployment was not possible when the course and the students conducted interviews in order to was given since the shelter had first to cobble fix the requirements. together a local area network out of truckloads of outmoded donated computer equipment. Project Deliverables: The retreat room reservation system resulted in Student teams submit the work in three phases: an outstanding database design. Implementation failed when the students tried to use a poorly 1. Requirements Analysis & Preliminary Design documented database management system that 2. Design was advertised as producing world wide web 3. Implementation data entry forms. The design will probably be used by the retreat in the near future. At the end of each phase the teams give a presentation. Our program requires students to The job listing project was completed and take a course in technical communications, part deployed by the Career Center at Wentworth of which is devoted to oral presentations. Each Institute of Technology. student is required to participate in at least two presentations even if English is not their native The student information system was completed language. Students typically use overhead but never deployed since it was dependent on a transparencies or PowerPoint slides for visuals. security and authentication subsystem that was To enhance communication, documents and to be provided by the local computer center but graphics must conform to a standard such as never was. OMT or UML. The CASE system has gone through several Implementation typically involves both a incarnations over the years the course has been database language such as Access or Oracle and given. One of the better implementations was an object-oriented programming language such done using Tcl/Tk. Most recently a team did an as Java or C++. Web applications also involve excellent object-oriented design for it but HTML and often Perl scripts. As a course foundered when they tried to implement the requirement, teams need to implement the main graphics editor using the Microsoft Foundation functionality of the system, but not exceptional Classes. The learning curve was simply too usages or extensive data validation. Of course steep for them to master MFC in one semester. the real projects need to be completely implemented and thoroughly tested to be useful. Some of the real projects Advanced Database Applications students have done: What happened with these projects? Projects were originally identified for two The bowling league project was completed and nearby nonprofit agencies, The Nelson Mandela delivered but suffered from the fact that the Training Center and the Parker Hill/Fenway customer was only occasionally available for branch of Action for Boston Community Action interviewing and some of those interviews were (ABCD). Both agencies are located within in the bowling alley itself, a very noisy walking distance of campus. The student environment. The students had to guess at some response to being offered these two projects was of the club rules and system requirements overwhelming. The agencies were then solicited making the resulting product unusable as for other projects. Ten projects, enough for a delivered. However, the system was project for each group, plus one project to subsequently patched by someone else and develop a web-based database application to eventually deployed. facilitate future projects, were assigned to the students. The homeless shelter project yielded a viable In order to ensure that the students were working For Wentworth Institute of Technology: on a project that they found interesting and feasible for their skill levels, two surveys were 1. A web-enabled database that would taken. One survey asked each student about their track new requests and facilitate student background and qualifications outside of assignment to new projects and tracking of prescribed course sequences. The other outlined completed projects. each project briefly, noting whether it was a web-enabled project or not, and asked students Since that semester, students have completed to form groups and rank their preferences for projects for other local agencies, such as the each project. All groups but one received either United South End Settlement House and La their first or second choice. Alianza Hispana, organizations that aid low- income and immigrant populations. One project For The Nelson Mandela Training center: for the Home for Little Wanderers (HLW), a foster and adoptive care agency, was a web- 1. An online application process for students enabled application for Christmas sponsorship of seeking training at the center. The center offers children whom would otherwise receive no two twelve-week tracks: computers and holiday gifts. It saved the organization 120 hours accounting. and the hiring of a part-time aide while enabling them to increase children served by 67 percent. 2. A course scheduling system to show applicants available course sections and times. Project Deliverables: 3. An online test bank that tested students as Student teams were required to produce the they progressed through the modules in the following documentation: program. Students know their scores immediately, and statistical reports are provided 1. Requirements Analysis & Preliminary Design to the management of the program. 2. Conceptual Design (Entity-Relationship Diagram) 4. A tracking program to provide reports on 3. Logical Design (Table mapping and student employment and salary gains after normalization) completion of a training program. 3. Physical Implementation 4. Systems Documentation (including a data 5. A marketing database of applicants, potential dictionary) applicants, and students who had completed the training but may want to upgrade their skills. All teams were required to conduct professional presentations to the clients. All used PowerPoint For the Parker Hill/Fenway ABCD: slide presentations and conducted thorough demonstrations of their systems. 1. A database of available day care slots searchable by age of child, price range, Implementation of these projects for the two languages spoken, hours of operation, and outside agencies was completed in Access 2000 location. as a back end, with Access 2000, C++ or Visual Basic front ends. The web application to track 2. A database of available openings for low- new projects and the HLW project was written income housing. in PHP with a MySQL back end. All projects had appropriate security measures in place, such 3. A grant tracking database to facilitate as groups and user logins with passwords. obtaining funds for the agency. What happened with these projects? 4. A database of employment opportunities. All projects were implemented at the client sites Drawbacks and Problems: during the last week of classes. All projects, except the one for Wentworth, are currently in The projects had to be completed within a single use. Follow-up calls made to the agencies have sixteen-week semester. all had positive feedback. The staff are enthusiastic about the software. All agencies Customers were often unavailable for have expressed a desire to have an ongoing interviewing. The student teams were on tight relationship with Wentworth. schedules but were held up by customers. Benefits: Student goals sometimes clashed with agency expectations. Feature creep was a significant The real projects were extremely motivating to problem as agency enthusiasm increased. Some the students who usually put in extensive time staff thought that the students were responsible on them. The Advanced Database classes for data entry. In addition, some project contacts contained 53 students whom estimated 3,000 were not technologically literate. total hours of time inclusive of analysis, design, programming hours and on-site installation. Students discovered an Access 2000 bug that nearly derailed several projects. A bad code Each project involved unforeseen complexity. patch deployed on campus wreaked havoc for They were harder than toy problems and more the students in the final programming hours. A typical of what the students will see on the job. code fix was available, but Wentworth’s Office Since the off-campus agencies’ applications had of Information Technology had not yet installed overlapping pieces, the students had to work in a it. Students were forced to write workarounds. larger group than just two or three of their friends. The most common complaint was one that is echoed in nearly every office in existence: in The customers always got something useful in some groups, not all students pulled their return for their time. Sometimes this was a weight, which generated significant resentment. functioning system, in others a reusable design. The Database systems were fully functioning Lastly, some of the agencies are located near to and work well together. In all cases a better the populace they serve, meaning, disadvantaged understanding of their own business was a and dangerous sections of the city. The students positive externality of the process on the side of expressed discomfort with the need to travel to the agencies. these sites. The work was guaranteed to be original. There Student Satisfaction: was little question of students recycling something they had done for another course or Students were generally enthusiastic about their had found on the Internet. experiences in working on real projects. The most positive feelings were generated towards Projects done for non-profit organizations can be the homeless shelter database system, although used to satisfy the community service this project posed many difficulties for those requirement that many colleges have for involved. Several students expressed their graduation. Participation in the work of non- personal needs to give back something to profits makes students more aware of the social society. They stayed with the project for months and ethical implications of computing. Such after the course ended, and even volunteered to understanding is now mandated by the ABET, do other things at the shelter, such as serving CAC accreditation criteria.i Whereas some meals. Although Wentworth Institute looks other schools offer a separate course in service favorably on service learningii, it is not a learningii, the Wentworth model is to incorporate graduation requirement. The student effort was it into the project portion of existing courses. entirely altruistic. Students in the Database class had mixed skills are greatly transferable to SQL Server and reactions. All students were asked during project Oracle implementations. presentations what they had enjoyed the most and least about the process. All expressed However, there is currently a SQL Server 2000 satisfaction and pride in their finished project. project under construction for the Fall and Summer 2003 which these professors are They were uniformly surprised at how much working on together. This project has required work a real project actually entails. Overall, a two students to act as database administrators. deeper understanding of Access 2000 and the The most ambitious project to date, students components of an advanced database system from two different courses and three different were the most enjoyable aspects of the projects. sections have already worked on it, and will Students disliked most the conflicting continue to work on final polishing in the Senior communications with the users (which the Project class offered this summer. professor actually saw as a benefit, since this experience will better prepare students for user As students have found that the real projects interactions in the post-graduation workplace). have eased their difficulty in finding required co-operative employment, subsequent classes One group felt that they should have been have expressed greater satisfaction. Many compensated for their work beyond a grade. students are now checking with instructors to see They were told that they were required to if their courses offer real projects, and taking complete a project for the course anyway, so the initiative to recruit their own. difference between a toy and a real project was not significant. In addition, they could translate Advice and Conclusions: this experience into a higher-paying job offer after graduation, since they now were able to say Real projects are an excellent teaching tool. that they had completed an actual, functioning Choose projects that are small enough to be project. doable but large enough to pose some complexity. For external projects, the scope of A high point for these students was the the project must be clearly defined and put in impromptu and eloquent address from Royal writing. External agencies should be asked to Bolling, a previous Massachusetts State provide a contact for each project that is Representative now the Director of the Nelson knowledgeable and available for student Mandela training center. He had attended the questions. student presentations for his agency and was moved at the quality of the student’s work. He Internal projects within the university pose less thanked them and took time to inform them of risk than external ones and the customers are the impact of their work: in an age where social more likely to make themselves available to the service agencies are overworked and students. On the other hand, external projects for underfunded, these projects would free staff non-profits are more of a thrill for the students from administrative tasks, leaving them more and allow them to experience feelings of giving time to serve their populace. something back to the community-at-large. One student did note on their semester-end evaluation that the use of Access 2000 was a iAccreditation Board for Engineering and disappointment. He would have preferred a more Technology, Item IV-17 in the 2000-2001 difficult back end such as SQL Server or Oracle, Criteria for Accrediting Computer Programs. since these skills are more in demand. However, Available from these agencies only had Access 2000 available. http://www.abet.org/images/Criteria/cac_criteria The experience of completing a real project _a.pdf. outweighs the selection of a platform. These ii P Sanderson and K Vollmar, A Primer for Applying Service Learning to Computer Science, SIGCSE Bulletin, Volume 32, Number 1, March 2000.
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