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Minding the Gap: Bridging Computing Science and      Business Studies with an Interdisciplinary Innovation                ...
in British Columbia, Canada, approached this problem by          cate the corporate environment by having students workcom...
goal was that at the end of the semester, students would both    Five teams were formed, with five members from CMPT 275be ...
ing people to think outside the box, to question the status         4. the demonstration of the prototype, andquo and to b...
5.   DISCUSSION AND FUTURE WORK                                   [5] K. Garg and V. Varma. A study of the effectiveness of...
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Minding the gap: Bridging Computing Science and Business Studies with an Interdisciplinary Innovation Challenge


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For today’s information technology organization, working in teams across functional and even organizational boundaries has become an integral part of every project. When asked about these projects, practitioners regularly report on how grave differences between business professionals and tech- nology teams have negatively affected project performance. The serious gap between how the two sides think, talk and work is systemic already in the training and education of both Business and Computer Science students at the univer- sity level. This paper describes the design of a competitive SFU Innovation Challenge which aims to bridge that gap by tasking interdisciplinary groups to create iPhone application prototypes and related business innovation roadmaps. This document then summarizes the objectives of the SFU Inno- vation Challenge, and reports on the difficulties and posi- tive results that materialized when students combined their technological problem- solving techniques and managerial strategies for effectively confronting real-world problems.

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Minding the gap: Bridging Computing Science and Business Studies with an Interdisciplinary Innovation Challenge

  1. 1. Minding the Gap: Bridging Computing Science and Business Studies with an Interdisciplinary Innovation Challenge Jan Kietzmann Herbert H. Tsang Faculty of Business Administration Department of Computer Science Simon Fraser University University of Calgary School of Computing Science Simon Fraser University herbert@herberttsang.orgABSTRACT lifecycle, software engineering, partnerships, education.For today’s information technology organization, working inteams across functional and even organizational boundarieshas become an integral part of every project. When asked 1. INTRODUCTIONabout these projects, practitioners regularly report on how Today’s information technology (IT) industry is confrontedgrave differences between business professionals and tech- with a number of far-reaching problems. Competition fromnology teams have negatively affected project performance. abroad has increased substantially over the past years andThe serious gap between how the two sides think, talk and North American IT- related expenditure has decreased dur-work is systemic already in the training and education of ing the economic downturn, while at the same time the pres-both Business and Computer Science students at the univer- sure to stay abreast of the rapidly changing pace of technol-sity level. This paper describes the design of a competitive ogy is growing.SFU Innovation Challenge which aims to bridge that gap bytasking interdisciplinary groups to create iPhone application Aside from these external factors, it seems that many of theprototypes and related business innovation roadmaps. This problems Canadian firms need to overcome to stay compet-document then summarizes the objectives of the SFU Inno- itive are internal and systemic. It seems that an “us againstvation Challenge, and reports on the difficulties and posi- them” attitude prevails between the two major participantstive results that materialized when students combined their of any IT project: the technologists and the business pro-technological problem- solving techniques and managerial fessionals. Too often, business professionals develop busi-strategies for effectively confronting real-world problems. ness models and design organizational workflow specifica- tions without comprehending the technological complexities required to build the systems they desire. These specifica-Categories and Subject Descriptors tions are then passed on to software engineers who are taskedD.2.9 [Software Engineering]: Management—life cycle, to design information systems based on unclear estimates ofprogramming teams, software configuration management, soft- the effort, skill, technology and budget needed for the task.ware quality assurance; K.3.2 [Computers and Educa- The resulting disconnect between the products promised totion]: Computer and Information Science Education—com- clients and the systems built are often only the start of aputer science education, curriculum, information systems “blame game”, as both Computer Science and Business pro-education. fessionals claim that demands were unreasonable from the other side.General TermsInnovation management, documentation, design, experimen- To university instructors, this is an alarming call to action.tation. As we continue to educate students in silos, we contribute to the everyday frustration of IT and Business profession-Keywords als, let alone the inherent problem that weakens our com-Pedagogy, retention, innovation, technology management, petitiveness on a local, domestic and international level. Ofexperience report, computer science, software development course, this is not a new phenomenon, but despite the clear signs, symptoms and effects, little has been done by univer- sities to fix the underlying self-reinforcing root-cause. Com- puter Science and Business students continue to be educated in separation, and graduates still speak inherently different professional languages when they enter a workforce that in- creasingly demands that they work closely together. In the Fall of 2009, Dr. Jan Kietzmann from the Faculty of Business and Dr. Herbert H. Tsang from the School of Computing Science, both at Simon Fraser University (SFU)
  2. 2. in British Columbia, Canada, approached this problem by cate the corporate environment by having students workcombining two class projects and hosting a joint SFU In- in teams to accomplish course learning objectives. Evennovation Challenge. In this project, teams comprised of though students are introduced to many essential workplacestudents from both BUS 338 (Understanding Technological concepts in these group projects, the true multi-disciplinaryInnovation) and CMPT 275 (Software Engineering I) had nature of a modern business workplace is often found lack-to work together to develop an iPhone application and an ing.innovation roadmap to market. Burnell et al. [3] present a quantified assessment of a limited-This joint effort received funding from SFU’s University / resource process for teaching software product development,Industry Liaison Office (UILO). At the end of the semester combining students in Computer Science, Engineering, anda grand finale was hosted, where teams presented their work Business at multiple universities within an existing curricu-to a panel of judges. After grounding this work in the cur- lum. Their experience produced positive feedback and out-rent research, this document presents an account of the de- comes from the multidisciplinary student teams. More re-velopment of the SFU Innovation Challenge, including its cently, Garg and Varma [5] show quantitatively that academiaobjectives, project design criteria, performance evaluation and industry should further explore the learning-by-doingmetrics, outcomes and lessons learned. It concludes by dis- paradigm in comparison to the traditional lecture based ap-cussing the overall implications and pointing at the direction proach, as the former can help bridge the industry-academiaof the SFU Innovation Challenge in the near future. gap. It is the ambition to educate students to become pro- fessionals who are not only well versed in theory and practice2. RELATED LITERATURE but have also experienced the intricacies of real software de- velopment before entering the industry.The Software Engineering discipline is a relatively young dis-cipline when compared with other engineering disciplines. It In addition, there are some notable efforts in experimentingis often cited that the discipline was born in Germany dur- with bringing an interdisciplinary approach to the curricu-ing a NATO conference in 1968 [1]. The field was born to lum. One example of this is the Ficocelli and Gregg reportaddress the needs for creating and maintain large software on their special collaborative interdisciplinary pilot projectsystems [7]. With the advance of technologies, as a disci- course on game development [4]. The participants consistedpline, Software Engineering has gone though a lot of changes of Computer Science students, as well as fine arts and mu-as well. sic majors. Although only held as a single-semester special project with just five students, the responses in general wereSoftware Engineering is inherently interdisciplinary in na- very positive and encouraged similar experiments at otherture, concerned with using tools, techniques and processes institutions and with other faculties. In this paper we reportto analyze, design, and develop software systems that sat- on such a similar interdisciplinary group project at Simonisfy all the requirements that the customers defined. It is Fraser University, including students from a selected Com-also concerned with maintaining the systems and adapting puting Science and Business course with a team of Comput-them to the changing requirements of the users. A task ing Science and Business students.force chartered by the Association for Computing Machin-ery (ACM) and the Institute for Electrical and ElectronicEngineers (IEEE) published the Guide to the Software En- 3. THE SFU INNOVATION CHALLENGEgineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK) in an attempt The instructors of both courses had worked on numerousto define the core knowledge that software engineer should industry projects, and were well-aware of the problems thatmaster [2]. This core body of knowledge covers a range of emerge when business and technology professionals work to-disciplines: computer engineering, computer science, man- gether on IT projects. Conscious of these problems andagement, mathematics, project management, quality man- their responsibilities for both rigorous and relevant teach-agement, software ergonomics, and system engineering. ing, the two instructors met at the beginning of the Fall 2009 semester to discuss the possibility of aligning their in-In a typical Software Engineering curriculum, students are dividual courses.expected to learn the following skills related to Software En-gineering: requirements analysis, design and architecture, 3.1 Objectivesimplementation, project management, verification and val- Initially, the two course outlines and deliverables were com-idation, and maintenance. Single and multi-semester cap- pared, and a new set of learning outcomes was defined.stone project courses are commonly included as core require- Both instructors agreed that, first and foremost, studentsments for Computer Science and Engineering programs [7]. needed to experience working with “the other side” in orderHowever, industry practitioners have found that capstone to maximize their learning of the respective difficulties ofprojects do not adequately prepare graduates for the work- both managing and developing technology. In this pursuit,place because of its mono-disciplinary approach, a perspec- the instructors pursued the following goals:tive also supported by Reichlmay [6] who indicates the im-portance of involving industry in the planning of the Soft- Experiential learning: Rather than staging mock-projects,ware Engineering curriculum. learning would happen in a real-life setting. A supportive en- vironment was required for students to produce high-qualityIn today’s workplace, teams often consist of a mixture of in- projects that address a real need.terdisciplinary members from many diverse areas. As the ed-ucational community is moving away from a lecture-format Bilingualism: Students from one faculty were encouraged toto team-based projects [8], instructors have strived to repli- attend the other faculty’s course seminars and lectures. The
  3. 3. goal was that at the end of the semester, students would both Five teams were formed, with five members from CMPT 275be fluent in their own professional language and achieve a and from BUS 338 each. For the CMPT 275 course, the SFUhigh level of competency in the other discipline’s vocabulary. Innovation Challenge was to drive the requirements gather-Attendance or participation was optional and not fee-based. ing, design and analysis, user documentation, and validation and verification phases. Focusing on iPhone applicationsCross-functional and non-hierarchical communication: In or- was to motivate students with the possibility that the soft-der to bridge the gap, simply grouping students from differ- ware they developed could be commercialized and hostedent disciplines was not seen as enough. Access to both the in the Apple Apps Store. For BUS 338, the SFU Innova-Computing Science and Business faculty instructors was fa- tion Challenge would provide the context for the experientialcilitated for all members of the teams through face-to-face study of technological innovation.interaction and electronic communication. 3.3 Assessing ProgressInter- and intra-disciplinarity: Cross-functional collabora- In order to stay close to a real industry setting, team mem-tion was required for the various design and management bers from both sides had their own sets of assignments,tasks, but different deliverables, goals and performance mea- where CMPT 275 students designed and developed a work-surement criteria were set for each cohort to stay true to ing prototype of an iPhone application. During the courseindustry standards. of the semester, the students had to deliver an initial project plan that specified the vision and scope of the project. TheyMentorship and entrepreneurship: Practitioners and mentors- then gathered information to create the system requirementsin- residence from both disciplines offered their time to help specification, and design document and quality assuranceemphasize the value of cross-disciplinary work, to support plan. These documents were continuously updated duringstudent development and to help grow projects into real ven- the semester to reflect any changes. Throughout the term,tures at the end of the course. students needed to collaborate with BUS 338 students to determine which functionalities needed to be delivered as aProject management skills: Teams picked a project manager, working prototype at each of three successive stages.a technical and a management lead, and were encouraged tofollow the processes and templates offered by the Project At the same time, BUS 338 students submitted problem def-Management Institute (PMI). initions and innovation forecasts, developed a structure for an innovation roadmap, designed concept maps, presented3.2 Defining a Collaboration Space innovation Pecha Kuchas (presentations of 20 slides with aCMPT 275, or “Software Engineering I”, is a required 200 maximum of 20 seconds per slide), and completed their in-level course for all SFU’s computing science students. The novation roadmaps. In order to improve on existing industrylearning focus of the course includes exposing the students to practices, each team needed to meet and discuss their deliv-Software Engineering techniques used for both the software erables with their counterparts from the other course aheaddevelopment process and software project management, but of time, and produce a log (i.e., meeting minutes) that woulddoes not include the study of managing systems from a busi- inform the choices they made.ness or innovation angle. Throughout the term, students had to report in person toBUS 338, better known as “Understanding Technological In- the instructors. Held on a regular basis, these status reportsnovation” is a 300 level course that introduces students to included both product-relevant information but also process-industry dynamics of technological innovation and to devel- oriented updates that required students to reflect upon theiroping an innovation organization through formulating and collaboration within their interdisciplinary teams.implementing an innovation strategy. The focus of BUS 338was purely on the business aspects of managing innovation, In a final showdown of the SFU Innovation Challenge, theseadmittedly with a fairly black-boxed perspective of the tech- cross- functional teams competed in a panel-judged “SFU In-nologies discussed. novation Competition” for $1, 000 in prize money. More im- portantly, the winners became honorary members of SFU’sThe forum in which these two very different groups of stu- “Technology, Innovation, Marketing and Entrepreneurship”dents were to engage needed to be designed in such a way (TIME) Centre, where they would receive further mentor-that was realistic, but also educational and manageable for ship and guidance for growing their innovations into reala large group of students. After deliberating various op- ventures.tions, including co-teaching, the instructors decided to keepthe classroom experiences separate. The objective was not 3.4 Outcomesto teach both topics to both groups of students, but to ex- The outcomes of the SFU Innovation Challenge were mea-pose students to collaboration across functions. However, as sured with respect to their impact on the two courses, onmentioned, attending the respective other class as a visitor the quality of the assignments delivered, and on the finalwas encouraged. event of the SFU Innovation Competition.The resulting collaboration of the two courses was centred With respect to the courses, the SFU Innovation Challengeon a common SFU Innovation Challenge. The scope of the provided a previously un-encountered exposure to altogether2009 competition was “Innovate and design mobile learning different classroom dynamics for each group of students.applications for the needs of an evolving and increasingly BUS 338 provides a highly interactive classroom experience.diverse workforce.” As an Innovation course, it has the ambition of motivat-
  4. 4. ing people to think outside the box, to question the status 4. the demonstration of the prototype, andquo and to be inventive. CMPT, on the other hand, is aSoftware Engineering course that is more prescriptive and 5. the ability to act as a single group, not as two separateasks students to understand and follow the constraints set both programming languages and hardware devices. It isimportant to note that this separation is not a value state-ment; both courses are designed according to the pedagogy The panel judges agreed on a single winner, with an iPhonethat best suits the topics to be taught and learned. The application called “LearnSomething”. The goal of the Learn-project work between the students consequently stretched Something project was to create a mobile platform thathow they had previously experienced collaboration within hosts a collection of educational tools for educators to sharetheir faculties. Mostly set within a single course, previous their own packages of questions and answers in a fun game-team assignments had not been asked students to combine like environment with each other and with their students.“in the box” and “out of the box” thinking to this extent. Inmany cases, this process was frustrating to the participantsinitially. Nonetheless, the exposure to the different nature 4. LESSONS LEARNEDof their assignments led to an appreciation of the complex- The various outcomes of the SFU Innovation Challenge yieldedity of working with team members from both Business and interesting lessons, especially evaluated against the predeter-Computer Science. To the instructors, moving along this mined learning objectives (see Section 3.1).pain curve at the university level was seen as a success crite-rion that could not have been accomplished with textbook Experiential learning was certainly achieved through the ap-reading, case studies or guest speakers alone. plication of the learning material within the project’s scope. The element of Mentorship and Entrepreneurship were pur-In terms of the teams’ assignments, both classes were more sued with the TIME Centre and SFU’s Venture Connection.reflective than they had been in prior courses. For BUS 338, To add to the experience, future SFU Innovation Challengesthis meant that innovation roadmaps did not nearly present will be tied more closely to industry by inviting additionalthe same degree of under- informed thinking about process industry experts to participate in the project. With the(i.e., the complexity of technology development) and prod- help of SFU’s University/Industry Liaison Office (UILO),uct (i.e., possible technological solutions to organizational students will be connected with one business and one soft-problems). Their work clearly showed the relevance imposed ware engineer to provide mentoring to each group. Studentsby constraints outlined by the CMPT team. For CMPT and instructors saw the prize money and the TIME mem-275, the additional elements meant that the endeavour was bership as appropriate, but further non- monetary prizesno longer just another “programming project”. The stake- (e.g., co-op positions) were valued even more highly amongholders for the project now included members from differ- students and will be negotiated with industry participants.ent backgrounds and with different objectives, which forcedstudents to rethink the rationale of not only their overall Inter- and Intra-disciplinarity was accomplished by includ-application, but of each deliverable along the way. Hence, ing components and deliverables that required the inputin a limited capacity, the students were able to experience from both faculties and were jointly developed, while othersthe multifaceted joy and anxiety that they will eventually were purely completed by one of the parties (e.g., the codingface in the real world software development project. for prototypes was under the responsibilities of the CMPT students only). In this sense, the instructors also agree thatThe Final SFU Innovation Competition was hosted in one of monolingualism was achieved, in the sense that each cohortthe university’s big auditoriums. Approximately 100 guests had mastered its professional language. The more investedwere in the room to listen to the presentations by each students had achieved a high level of fluency, but the major-team’s representatives. Here, two students from CMPT 275 ity only mastered a basic command of the other professionaland BUS 338 presented the prototype they had developed language - bilingualism for all students requires further de-alongside its current business model and its next stages on velopment of the deliverables of the SFU Innovation Chal-an innovation roadmap. Five individuals formed the judg- lenge. It did however, appear that CMPT students had mas-ing panel, both from academia and industry, including a tered more of the business lingo than vice versa, which mightfellow SFU Business student and SIFE Global Entrepreneur well be related to the fact that more cross-functional andof 2009. For the challenge, “Innovate and design mobile non-hierarchical communication occurred between CMPTlearning applications for the needs of an evolving and in- students and the Business instructor than between Businesscreasingly diverse workforce”, the panel members judgment students and the CMPT instructor. As a result, in the nextof the student performances was guided by the following SFU Innovation Challenge, attention will be paid to a moremain marking criteria: balanced interaction and language learning experience for both cohorts. 1. the analysis of the future state of mobility and learning In terms of Project management skills, groups successfully in the workplace, adopted many of the industry standards and worked through 2. the creativity and soundness of the description of the document templates. The next version of the SFU Innova- proposed innovation, its implementation plan and its tion Challenge will be tied more closely to Project Manage- future direction, ment workshops at the university, in which additional PMI Areas of Knowledge will be introduced. 3. the implementation of the software development prin- ciples taught,
  5. 5. 5. DISCUSSION AND FUTURE WORK [5] K. Garg and V. Varma. A study of the effectiveness ofThis project clearly demonstrated the potential value of case study approach in software engineering education.multi-disciplinary student projects. The faculty involved In CSEET ’07: Proceedings of the 20th Conference onfound the project very rewarding and are eager to do this Software Engineering Education & Training, pagesagain. 309–316, Washington, DC, USA, 2007. IEEE Computer Society.Having students work in an interdisciplinary team early in [6] T. J. Reichlmay. Collaborating with industry: strategiestheir university career (2nd or 3rd year) requires a shift in for an undergraduate software engineering program. Intheir thinking. After participating in this project, many stu- SSEE ’06: Proceedings of the 2006 internationaldents found the experience extremely valuable. They have workshop on Summit on software engineering education,gained skills that will make significant and meaningful con- pages 13–16, New York, NY, USA, 2006. ACM.tributions to the success of their future career. [7] S. Rezaei. Software engineering education in canada. In WCCCE ’05: Proceedings of the Western CanadianFor this first Innovation Challenge, a website was designed Conference on Computing Education, 2005.that students often accessed, but also to which they pointed [8] M. Shaw. Software engineering education: a roadmap.their peers, employers, friends and family. This website facil- In ICSE ’00: Proceedings of the Conference on Theitated a viral marketing effort for the project. It worked well Future of Software Engineering, pages 371–380, Newand many shared the excitement surrounding CMPT 275 York, NY, USA, 2000. ACM.and BUS 338. However within the two faculties, not manycolleagues were aware of the first SFU Innovation Challenge.Nevertheless, those who did follow the project regarded itan invaluable grass-root effort that was spearheaded by twoinstructors.After this proof-of-concept effort, the next SFU InnovationChallenge will be planned much more in advance to re-ceive additional institutional support from the faculties, theUILO, the TIME Centre, Venture Connection, and SIFE.All of these partners agreed to help market the SFU Inno-vation Challenge as a new and novel way of helping bridgethe gap that exists between Computer Scientist and Busi-ness professionals - at the university level and in the realworld.6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTSBoth authors would like to thank Elmer Sum of the TIMECentre, University/Industry Liaison Office (UILO), SimonFraser University for his support of this joint project. Spe-cial thanks also go to Andrew Gemino, Associate Directorof the SFU’s Faculty of Business Administration, to An-thony Dixon, Associate Director of SFU’s School of Com-puting Science, to Kathy Wong and Andrew Hendriks fortheir valuable suggestions and comments, to Denny Dai andto Milun Tesovic for providing their expert knowledge forthe SFU Innovation Challenge and the final competition.7. REFERENCES[1] In P. Naur and B. Randell, editors, Software Engineering: Report of a conference sponsored by the NATO Science Committee. Scientific Affairs Division, NATO, Oct. 1969.[2] A. Abran, J. W. Moore, P. Bourque, R. Dupuis, and L. L. Tripp. Guide to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK). IEEE, 2004. ISO Technical Report ISO/IEC TR 19759.[3] L. J. Burnell, J. W. Priest, and J. R. Durrett. Assessment of a resource limited process for multidisciplinary projects. SIGCSE Bull., 35(4):68–71, 2003.[4] L. Ficocelli and D. Gregg. A group project - with a twist! In WCCCE ’05: Proceedings of the Western Canadian Conference on Computing Education, 2005.