S4-PRO6-3 - Student Feedback for Globally Distributed Team Application Development

3. Research Work In Progress
David Drohan1 , Patrick Seeling2
1 Waterford Institute of Technology
2 Central Michigan University

In recent years, the development of applications has become increasingly distributed in nature - be it for large corporations with global footprints or smaller local companies that partially outsource their development efforts to other teams. Subsequently, the ability to function in international team-based environments becomes increasingly important and a desirable skill for employers of graduating students. While team-based, active learning projects can readily be integrated into the coursework for an individual institution, crossing institutional boundaries commonly encounters additional problems, such as synchronization of instructional content and timing. Providing students with this soft skill, however, is a desirable outcome of future educational offerings, especially for domains that lean themselves towards these agile and flexible teams, such as the software engineering domain we consider in this Work-in-Progress contribution.

We describe feedback gathered from an international course offering in mobile application development, jointly taken by students in Ireland and the United States in their third and fourth year. Both classes were aligned with respect to instructional content and delivered at their respective institution by local instructors. As part of their instructional sequence, students were initially introduced to Kotlin and the Android Framework sd well as relevant development environments. Subsequently, students were taken through the steps of a mobile application development with git as versioning system and to provide on-ramping for a team project component. As part of the course activities, the students were asked to develop mobile application ideas and present those using videos as well as communicate with Slack. The video presentations were shared with both classes and students were asked to join in teams. Students were strongly encouraged to join in cross-Atlantic teams and given extra credit as incentive to compensate for the increased scheduling and communication overheads. Despite these motivations, only two teams were formed and developed a mobile application each. We employed a survey modeled after the Persistence in Engineering (PIE) survey instrument and administrated voluntarily online after the semester to gather information about the hindrances for the team project.  For 24 responses, we find an approximate 2.5 average on a 5-point Likert-type scale for students liking team work. However, almost half of the students considered dropping the course at one point, for a variety of reasons. Open-ended feedback indicates that programming struggles were some of the major issues students faced. We employ the course drop self-identification to group students further, noting that this results in students considering a drop indicate not enough interaction with faculty as well as high stress levels and, subsequently, a lower agreement to the course being worthwhile. We also find that students with a higher teamwork affinity had a higher likelihood to drop the course. Some of the major issues found for local as well as international team formation were time and pace considerations, team member dependability questions, and students preferring their own project and individual work. The findings we describe in this contribution can be used to develop future course offerings, as well as to communicate with students beforehand.