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General Card #647
Connecting with Clients by Creating Educational Software
Updated: 10/14/2022 3:32 PM by Michael Johnson
Reviewed: 10/14/2022 3:33 PM by Michael Johnson
Programming teams apply EM tools to develop educational software for clients.
This card describes enhancements made to the term project used at the end of Ohio Northern University’s (ONU) first-year programming sequence, where teams of 3-4 students work with clients to develop educational software. Clients are currently recruited from ONU’s body of education majors who already have developed a set of lesson plans specific to their discipline (e.g., language arts for early childhood education). These lesson plans cover one topic or subject and contain a set of associated outcomes that adhere to appropriate state educational standards; the developed software application is meant to support one or more of the lesson plan’s outcomes. While the app design must satisfy at least one of the specified outcomes, the teams are free to be as creative as desired given the other major constraints: the application must be suitable for use in an elementary, middle, or high school environment as appropriate (examples: no violence, age-appropriate vocabulary), and a gamification approach must be used.

Upon reviewing the assigned lesson plan, each programming team interacts with their client in the development of two project proposals presenting possible app ideas, how they relate to the lesson plan, and how they expect to engage the app’s audience through gamification principles. Starting in 2018, teams also used the NABC (Need, Approach, Benefits, Competition) method to present a value proposition to the client. After receiving approval to go ahead, teams applied the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) concept to develop just enough of the critical infrastructure of their app to allow them to engage their clients via a working, albeit incomplete, program, and thereby obtaining feedback for informing improvements. Weekly progress reports and Project Design Reviews are used to obtain additional feedback and to keep the teams on task. The applications are then exhibited for critical review by judges from the computing, education, and engineering disciplines at a Software Application Fair near the end of the semester.

To help master the new material, a software application for a common lesson plan was developed by all teams. By working on a preliminary assignment, each team was able to apply the NABC and MVP principles in a practice-type environment, and also experience what it was like to work as a member of a particular team. Added in 2018 at the end of this preliminary assignment, each team then performed a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) analysis regarding their initial performance. This analysis was then used to inform each team's decisions when working on their client's educational software application.

Materials contained in this card include the term project assignment; materials for MVP, NABC, and SWOT; and multiple assessment tools.

This project is used in Ohio Northern University's Programming 2 course, offered in the first-year curriculum for computer engineering and computer science majors.This is a 4 semester credit hour course consisting of three 50-minute lectures plus one 165-minute laboratory each week for 15 weeks. The "Project Introduction" section includes the complete lecture and lab schedule for this course, and how the term project fits therein. This section also has the assignment handouts, which contain details regarding the project deliverables.

Connections to the KEEN Framework:

Having first-year programmers craft software applications for classroom use is highly contrary to the “accepted” solution of having computing professionals perform such development. Having a real-world end user in the form of school children changed the perspectives of the programmers; for example, one post-activity survey comment was as follows: “We had to think differently because we were making a program for sixth graders instead of programming professors.”

To successfully complete this team-based, client-oriented term project, first-year programmers have to integrate different forms of information from outside of their discipline and via an educational context. To define the solution space, the programmers needed to connect with their education clients to gain the insight necessary for learning about educational standards, interpreting lesson plans, and cognitive capabilities of elementary-level students. As one student commented, “We were faced with problems in knowing how to present the material for kids to learn since we are not educators, but we worked closely with our client to achieve the best understanding for kids.” Using the NABC provides a means for further connecting with the clients to ensure that the programmers are on the right track with their solution, while the MVP process allows the team to manage risk by having a systematic means for placing appropriate limits to the scope of their design. The use of an “App Fair” as a critical design review provided additional connections for the programmers, as computing, education, and engineering professionals provided feedback for each team’s nearly complete design.

Creating Value:
It can be easily said that this project was an unexpected opportunity for creating extraordinary value: how often do first-year college students, let alone first-year programmers, get to design and develop software that will be used by others? Many of these programmers consequently put forth considerable time and effort in developing their application as they were motivated to do so because of this value proposition. This is not to say that they did not encounter struggles along the way. To ensure that the students could learn from these struggles, formative assessment rubrics were used throughout the process, providing feedback on how to improve.
  • Integrate information from many sources to gain insight
  • Assess and manage risk
Creating Value
  • Identify unexpected opportunities to create extraordinary value
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