Live from RE’08: Learning Days for Us

ArgonDigital - enterprise automation experts

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Yesterday was the Requirements Engineering Education and Training (REET08) workshop and today was the beginning of the main conference. So when I say they were “learning days”, I mean more than 2 days of us learning – I also mean that most of the talks we heard were about learning, a topic near and dear to my heart.
Mike summarized the workshop well, however he neglected to mention the talk he gave during the workshop. He presented our paper titled “Effective Design and Use of Training Games”. This talk was about specific games we designed for our Req101 training course. Given the nature of the workshop, he was able to actually play one of the games with the participants, and they absolutely loved it. In fact, some of the participants are looking to use the game ideas in their own training programs. One of the neat things about this year’s workshop is we spent end of the day sharing classroom activities with one another for reuse. I had co-chaired this workshop with Jane Cleland-Huang from Depaul University in Chicago and Didar Zowghi from University of Technology, Sydney Australia – so it was really exciting to see it finally come together and have so much participation (25 people!).
Today’s first session was “Training & Lessons Learned”, with the first paper presented by Brian Berenbach on a survey he did of a requirements engineering training program he did at Siemens. He was able to survey the students quite awhile after they took the course, which in itself is a neat thing – to find out what the students found most useful to them from the training course. This would be great data in order to influence the design of your courses in the future. The last talk of the session was by Sascha Konrad, also of Siemens and was about the challenges and solutions of doing requirements engineering on large-scale systems. The challenges they face at Siemens are certainly common to many large organizations – for example, there are many requirements to be managed, their customers’ expectations can be hard to manage, and the teams are globally distributed. And the talk in the middle was actually my talk, based on a paper I wrote with Mike, titled “Games-Based Requirements Engineering Training: An Initial Experience Report”, in which we describe the learning theory behind using games in training and talk about specific games and experiences from our visualization course. The talk seemed to go over well, and I got some interesting questions.
• If you have large teams in your activities, how do you deal with the problem of some people checking email or wandering out of the room and letting the rest of the team do the work? The short answer is that you talk to them individually if it happens. But at the core of it, we are using games in our training in order to avoid this exact problem – we want the students to be so engaged that they want to be there.
• Have you used the games internationally, how well does that work? We have not done much internationally. One of our courses uses Jeopardy, and we did teach it internationally. They understood it but were not as excited by that particular game. However, over the next few months we’ll be internationalizing our courses, so we will have more to say shortly.
• Have you thought to use different types of members of the audience to play different roles in games (i.e. RE vs developer)? We have not. We do have different types of audience members, but typically they are all there so they can learn to speak the same language about requirements, not to use the content differently per se. That said, there is a possibility to do this, but I would have to give it more thought. And we do one exercise in our Req101 class that does actually put the students in the role of a developer.
• What is Jeopardy? (this was a follow-on to our discussion about using games internationally from someone non-American) We laughed at his question, as it made exactly the point about international audiences not understanding USA game references. Most of our games are not actually based on US games, though some are and will need altered. But to answer this, I did explain Jeopardy.
The final session of the day was the panel on “Transforming the RE Classroom Experience”, with Jane Cleland-Huang, Don Gause, Olly Gotel, Zhi Jin, Pete Sawyer and Didar Zowghi. They each presented a snip-it of information about their university courses and then opened it for discussion to the group. My favorite question was (and this is biased since I asked it), how did Jane change her classroom activities for her distance learning (DL) students to be able to do them. She records the courses and they watch it online the day after the in-course stuff. And it turns out she does let the DL students watch the activity performed by the local class, so that they can learn from the local experiences. She then asks them to do the activity on their own. Her feedback has been only positive from the DL students in how this works. There was also a good discussion around whether universities should teach current industry practices or new ideas from research – the consensus is that it’s mostly 80% current practices with a little bit of new to send out into industry.
All in all it was a fun-filled day!

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