Thursday, December 30, 2010

CS315: What We Learned

During the "final exam" meeting for CS315, I conducted an exercise similar to the one at the end of CS222. I gave the team 30 minutes to list all of the significant things they learned during their 315 Studio experience, and this resulted in 78 items. The list of 78 were consolidated to 76 to remove redundancy. I gave each student three stickers which they used to vote on the items they thought were most significant. When we isolated the top 10% by votes, we ended up with this list:
Interestingly, only two of these—the top two—are explicit learning objectives in the course syllabus. The rest deal with the practice of developing a game. Just below these top vote getters were similarly useful tools: Mercurial, Javadoc, and shell scripting.

The surprising thing to me is that there were almost no items listed that dealt with team communication. At the end of each sprint, we held a Sprint Retrospective, during which time the team discussed what went well and what did not go well. Team communication (within teams and across teams) was listed every sprint as something that was going well, and so I assumed that given the opportunity, they would articulate team communication as a lesson learned. I mentioned my surprise in our debriefing after the exercise, and one of the students astutely observed that interpersonal communication was considered a "background" skill, something that was taken for granted. Given more time, I would have liked to have explored this theme, but we were already running late.

I am left with this question: what does it mean that students consider interpersonal communication to be different from other skills developed in the course of a project? Is this an artifact of the university infrastructure, an effect of this particular course design, or just human nature to consider it so? There were no explicit team-building or communication-enhancing activities: there was just the project, run through Scrum, and the associated reflective retrospectives. This might be enough to dismiss the point, since students were not explicitly exposed to interpersonal communication as a subject of study, except that "coding for reuse" was also not separately identified, and this made the top six.

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