From my experiences as a software developer and a supervisor of student software projects, as well as conversations with alumni, I have learned that software development involves constant, complex communication. It is generally acknowledged that software cost overruns, delays and accidents can typically be traced to communication breakdowns. Yet instruction in communication skills is generally downplayed in computing curricula; students get most of their practice in external communication or writing courses. The research work I have conducted with colleagues in the Humanities Department is based on the belief that situated learning, where the communication is placed within realistic software scenarios, is a more effective approach.
Students do get exposure to situated communication in their senior year, through the capstone project course. In order to bring these experiences earlier in the curriculum, we developed case studies based on students' experiences in the capstone course. In a three-year project funded by the National Science Foundation, a multidisciplinary team conducted ethnographic studies of capstone teams and created online instructional materials alongside detailed narratives of the projects. We have used and evaluated these materials in software engineering and technical communication courses at Michigan Tech.
In current work, we are creating smaller-scale scenarios that develop individual scenes from the case studies into interactive communication scenarios. These will be more suitable as small-scale activities that can be used inside a course with limited time for communication instruction. We plan to work with faculty in Visual & Performing Arts to produce dramatic versions of these scenarios, in a style similar to the CRLT Players Program.
Case studies in software communication
Making and acting: Ethnographic development of a case study approach. With T. Vosecky and M. Seigel. Technical Communication (to appear).
Speaking of software: Case studies in software communication. With A. Brady, M. Seigel and T. Vosecky. In H.J.C. Ellis, S.A. Demurjian and J.F. Naveda (eds.), Software Engineering: Effective Teaching and Learning Approaches and Practices. IGI Global, 2009.
The intersecting futures of Technical Communication and Software Engineering: Forging a multi-disciplinary alliance. With M.A. Brady and R.R. Johnson. Technical Communication 53(3), 2006.
Student-based case studies in software communication. With T. Vosecky, L. Steinbacher, A. Mareck, R.R. Johnson and A. Brady. Conference on Software Engineering Education and Training (CSEET), Kahuku, Oahu, HI, 2006.
Incorporating and compensating: Some challenges of interdisciplinary research on programs inside and outside of technical communication. With A. Brady, R.R. Johnson and T. Vosecky. Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication Conference (CPTSC), Lubbock, TX, 2005.