Collaborative learning to answer industry problems
Working on real-world problems in a multi-disciplinary software design studio
Nestled in the depths of a maze of whiteboard-walled offices, small teams of students huddle over their laptops. Sporadically they rise, scribing their ideas across the whiteboards. These software developers are brainstorming, and producing, industry-specified software with the help of professional mentors.
It’s all part of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology’s Software Development Studio (SDS). The aim of SDS is to give students the opportunity to collaborate with industry to develop real software products.
“The SDS is one of the most exciting things at uni these days,” says fourth-year software engineering student Jacob Vorreiter. He’s proven his love for the studio by returning every teaching session since its genesis in 2014.
This session, Vorreiter is leading one of eight multi-disciplinary software design teams. His team is developing a program that has the potential to save the lives of fellow students. It’s a ‘smart application’ to assist in the event of an emergency fire evacuation. It aims to do this by entering temperature measurements from inside the building into a program that can then trigger an evacuation alert to be sent to students’ mobile phones in the event of a fire.
To create the app, the students have teamed up with mentors from telecommunications multinational Ericsson. The collaboration, which gives the students access to Ericsson’s AppIoT platform, has enabled the SDS team to produce a functional user interface in a matter of months.
Ryan Lawton is a software engineering student also taking the SDS subject. He’s working with a client from Amazon to develop the capabilities of their Alexa program. (Alexa is a virtual personal assistant that can play music, provide weather and news updates, answer questions, create lists and more in response to voice commands.)
Instead of creating a program from scratch, Lawton’s team has been tasked with adding new functionality to the existing program and integrating it with other home electronics. “We’re looking at developing the web system and re-working how the system communicates between Amazon’s online databases and the electronic appliances,” explains Lawton.
SDS is the brainchild of the faculty’s Director, Engagement (Teaching and Learning) Dr Julia Prior and Adjunct Professor of Software Engineering John Leaney. Their vision for the studio was to create a way of replicating “professional software development spaces” which would give students practical, industry-ready experience embedded in a tertiary environment. Teamwork; reflective, immersive, design practice; agility, industrial tools and mentoring are all key.
Prior says, “This mirrors the diverse experience in a real workplace, while also providing scaffolding for the students’ learning.
“The design of the studio space is primarily driven by the whiteboards,” adds Prior. Each group space is surrounded by plans and solutions drawn up in erasable marker and sticky notes. Lawton describes the set-up as a “project board where we can visually represent our work”.
Vorrieter says, “It’s as close to industry as you can get”. And come graduation, that’s exactly the kind of experience employers want.