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Dr Julia Prior


Underpinning my work is a nexus of teaching, research and engagement concerns focusing on people performing technical work and their practices.

I lead others in the development of practice-based, active and reflective learning environments, which effectively prepare students for professional practice while providing opportunities for deep learning, across a broad range of Engineering and Information Technology disciplines.

I founded the Software Development Studio, an initiative at the UTS that provides software undergraduates with an innovative industry-collaborative learning experience that more closely mirrors a technical professional context, embedded in an academic environment. The approach is unique in that student teams working on real projects with industry mentors are mixed across subjects, degree courses and years. 

I was part of a multidisciplinary team that designed, and teaches in, the UTS’ combined degree, the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII), which focuses on high-level conceptual, collaborative and multidisciplinary ways of tackling complex problems.
In 2016, I am leading the curriculum design of the technology stream, as a member of a transdisciplinary education team, in the UTS' new standalone Bachelor of Technology and Innovation (BTi) degree.

My research focuses on understanding professional practice through in-depth industry-based studies of complex software development and the mechanisms that enable its more effective practice. My PhD highlighted the complex relations between professional software developers' everyday practices, their development infrastructure and the software products they develop.

I help software companies deeply understand and improve their local software development practices, particularly with regard to software quality, by viewing software development primarily as a human endeavour. Building innovation capabilities through R&D is a growing aspect of my industry engagement.


I am an active member of the Leadership Praxis for the 21st Century (LP21) research cluster, and the Interaction Design and Human Practices (IDHuP) research laboratory.

I am a member of the Supporting Women in Technology (SWIT) group in Sydney, setup to facilitate networking and encourage the promotion of women into technology related (STEM) careers.

Other industry groups of which I am a member include:
Sydney Technology Leaders
Women Who Code Sydney
Agile Sydney User Group

Girl Geek Sydney

I was an active member of the Component and Object Technology Application and Research (COTAR) research group, which was part of the now defunct Human-Centred Technology Design (HCTD) research centre.

Image of Julia Prior
Director, Engagement (Teaching and Learning), Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning)
Core Member, HCTD - Human Centred Technology Design
BTech IT (PE Technikon), PhD (UTS)
+61 2 9514 4480

Research Interests

Software development practice, software quality, Agile software development, software development processes, empirical software engineering ESE, soft systems methodology,
ethnography, action research, transciplinary practices,
philosophy of science, engineering and technology, science technology and society,
human-computer interaction HCI, human-centred technology design, computer-supported cooperative work CSCW, work practice and technology design and use, ethics and technology design and use,
creative intelligence and innovation, technology and innovation,
software engineering education,
database design, development and use, data modeling

Can supervise: Yes
Principal supervisor at Honours and Masters levels. Co-supervision only at PhD level.

Software Design and Development, Agile Methodologies , Applications Programming, Systems Analysis and Design, Systems Thinking, Soft Systems Methodology,
Ethnography, Action Research,  Research Methodologies, Research Design,
Technology in Innovation, Creative Intelligence and Innovation (Problems to Possibilities, Creative Practice and Methods, Leading Innovation (Transdisciplinary dialogues),
Database Fundamentals (database design and development, SQL programming)

Software Development Studio


Ahadi, A., Behbood, V., Lister, R., Prior, J. & Vihavainen, A. 2016, 'Students' Syntactic Mistakes in Writing Seven Different Types of SQL Queries and its Application to Predicting Students' Success', Proceedings of the 47th ACM Technical Symposium on Computing Science Education, Special Interest Group in COmputer Science Education, ACM, Memphis, Tennessee, pp. 401-406.
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The computing education community has studied extensively the errors of novice programmers. In contrast, little attention has been given to student's mistake in writing SQL statements. This paper represents the first large scale quantitative analysis of the student's syntactic mistakes in writing different types of SQL queries. Over 160 thousand snapshots of SQL queries were collected from over 2000 students across eight years. We describe the most common types of syntactic errors that students make. We also describe our development of an automatic classifier with an overall accuracy of 0.78 for predicting student performance in writing SQL queries.
Prior, J., Ferguson, S. & Leaney, J. 2016, 'Reflection is hard: teaching and learning reflective practice in a software studio', Proceedings of the Australasian Computer Science Week Multiconference, Australasian Computing Education Conference ACSW, ACM, Canberra, Australia.
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We have observed that it is a non-trivial exercise for undergraduate students to learn how to reflect. Reflective practice is now recognised as important for software developers and has become a key part of software studios in universities, but there is limited empirical investigation into how best to teach and learn reflection. In the literature on reflection in software studios, there are many papers that claim that reflection in the studio is mandatory. However, there is inadequate guidance about teaching early stage students to reflect in that literature. The essence of the work presented in this paper is a beginning to the consideration of how the teaching of software development can best be combined with teaching reflective practice for early stage software development students. We started on a research programme to understand how to encourage students to learn to reflect. As we were unsure about teaching reflection, and we wished to change our teaching as we progressively understood better what to do, we chose action research as the most suitable approach. Within the action research cycles we used ethnography to understand what was happening with the students when they attempted to reflect. This paper reports on the first 4 semesters of research. We have developed and tested a reflection model and process that provide scaffolding for students beginning to reflect. We have observed three patterns in how our students applied this process in writing their reflections, which we will use to further understand what will help them learn to reflect. We have also identified two themes, namely, motivation and intervention, which highlight where the challenges lie in teaching and learning reflection.
Ahadi, A., Prior, J., Behbood, V. & Lister, R. 2015, 'A Quantitative Study of the Relative Difficulty for Novices of Writing Seven Different Types of SQL Queries', Proceedings of the 2015 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, 2015 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, ACM, Lithuania, pp. 201-206.
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This paper presents a quantitative analysis of data collected by an online testing system for SQL "select" queries. The data was collected from almost one thousand students, over eight years. We examine which types of queries our students found harder to write. The seven types of SQL queries studied are: simple queries on one table; grouping, both with and without "having"; natural joins; simple and correlated sub-queries; and self-joins. The order of queries in the preceding sentence reflects the order of student difficulty we see in our data.
Prior, J.R., Arjpru, S. & Leaney, J.R. 2014, 'Towards an industry-collaborative, reflective software learning and development environment', Proceedings of the 23rd Australasian Software Engineering Conference ASWEC 2014, 23rd Australasian Software Engineering Conference ASWEC 2014, IEEE, Sydney, Australia.
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A significant mismatch (88%) has been found between what employers and graduates perceived as important abilities and how universities had prepared graduates for employment. Conventional Teaching and Learning approaches fall short of providing the kind of learning experiences needed to prepare graduates for the realities of professional practice in industry. On the other hand, current students have very different learning styles than their forebears. Their learning preferences are experiential, working in teams, and using technology for learning. One solution to address this mismatch issue is the software development studio. Our aim is to provide an industry-collaborative, reflective learning environment that will effect the students development of holistic skills, such as teamwork, collaboration and communication, together with technical skills, in a discipline context. This paper further describes the design and validation via prototyping for our software development studio, the progress that we have made so far, and presents the preliminary insights gleaned from our studio prototyping. The prototypes raised issues of attitudinal change, communication, reflection, sharing, mentoring, use of process, `doing time, relationships and innovation.
Prior, J.R., Connor, A.L. & Leaney, J.R. 2014, 'Things Coming Together: Learning Experiences in a Software Studio', Proceedings of the 19th Annual SIGCSE Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education 2014, 19th Annual SIGCSE Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education 2014, ACM, Uppsala, Sweden.
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We have evidence that the software studio provides learning that genuinely prepares students for professional practice. Learning that entails dealing with complex technical problems and tools. Learning that involves working effectively in groups. Learning that results in the building of students self-confidence and the conviction that they can successfully deal with the challenges of modern software system development. Learning that allows the accomplishment of the more elusive professional competencies. In order for students to achieve this type of deep learning, they need time to immerse themselves in complex problems within a rich environment such as the software studio. The studio also enables each student group to develop and succeed according to their needs, and in different ways. The conclusions above arise from an ethnographic study in an undergraduate software studio prototype with two student groups and their mentors.
Prior, J.R. 2013, 'A sense of working there: the user experience of Agile software development', Proceedings of the 25th Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference OZCHI, Australian Computer-Human Interaction Conference, ACM, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, pp. 147-150.
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This paper emphasises the importance to the Human-Computer Interaction community of understanding the landscape in which Agile software developers practice. A longitudinal ethnographic study of professional Agile software developers in Australia is drawn on to present an account of their everyday work.
Prior, J.R., Robertson, T.J. & Leaney, J.R. 2008, 'Situated Software Development: Work Practice and Infrastructure are Mutually Constitutive', Proceedings of 19th Australian Software Engineering Conference, Australian Software Engineering Conference, IEEE Computer Society, Perth, Western Australia, pp. 160-169.
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Software developers work is much more interesting and multifarious in practice than formal definitions of software development processes imply. Rational models of work are often representations of processes defined as they should be performed, rather than portrayals of what people actually do in practice. These models offer a simplified picture of the phenomena involved, and are frequently confused with how the work is carried out in reality, or they are advocated as the ideal way to accomplish the work. A longitudinal ethnographic study (45 days of fieldwork over 20 months) of a group of professional software developers revealed the importance of including their observed practice, and the infrastructure that supports and shapes this practice, in an authentic account of their work. Moreover, this research revealed that software development work practice and the infrastructure used to produce software are inextricably entwined and mutually constitutive over time.
Prior, J.R., Robertson, T.J. & Leaney, J.R. 2006, 'Technology Designers as Technology Users: The Intertwining Of Infrastructure & Product', OZCHI 2006 Conference Proceedings Design: activities artefacts & environment, Australian Computer Human Interaction Conference, ACM, Sydney, Australia, pp. 353-356.
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This paper is about the developer as technical user interacting with computer technology as part of the infrastructure that makes possible their 'real work' of developing a large and complex software product. A longitudinal ethnographic study of work practice in a software development company that uses an Agile development approach found that the developers spend a large part of their working time designing, creating, modifying and interacting with infrastructure to enable and support their software development work. This empirical work-in-progress shows that an understanding of situated technology design may have implications for the future development of HCI methods, tools and approaches
Prior, J.R., Robertson, T.J. & Leaney, J.R. 2006, 'Programming Infrastructure and Code Production: An Ethnographic Study', Team Ethno-Online Journal, Issue 2 June 2006, Ethnographies of Code: Computer Programs as Lived Work of Computer Programming, TeamEthno-Online, Lancashire, UK, pp. 112-120.
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Bachfischer, A., Lawrence, E.M., Culjak, G. & Prior, J.R. 2006, 'Online Teaching of large Groups in Information Technology: a survey of strategies', Proceedings of IADIS Internatoinal Conference e-Society 2006, IADIS International Conference e-Society, IADIS Press, Dublin, Ireland, pp. 201-209.
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Prior, J.R. & Lister, R.F. 2004, 'The Backwash Effect on SQL Skills Grading', ITiCSE 2004 Proceedings of the 9th Annual SIGCSE Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education, ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education Conference, ACM Press, Leeds,UK, pp. 32-36.
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This paper examines the effect of grading approaches for SQL query formulation on students' learning strategies. The way that students are graded in a subject has a significant impact on their learning approach, and it is crucial that graded tasks are carefully designed and implemented to inculcate a deep learning experience. An online examination system is described and evaluated.
Serour, M.K., Dagher, L., Prior, J.R. & Henderson-Sellers, B. 2004, 'Open for Agility: An Action Research Study of Introducing Method Engineering into a Government', Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Conference on Information Systems Development. Advances in Theory, Practice and Education, International Conference on Information Systems Development, Vilnius Gediminas Technical University, Vilnius, Lithuania, pp. 105-116.
Prior, J.R. 2003, 'Online Assessment of SQL Query Formulation Skills', Volume 20 in the Conferences in Research and Practice in Information Technology Series - Proceedings of the Fifth Australasian Computing Education Conference., Australasian Computing Education Conference, Australian Computer Society Inc., Adelaide, Australia, pp. 1-10.
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