The work-reflection-learning cycle in software engineering student projects: Use of collaboration tools
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In project based learning, students learn from hands-on experience with the challenges and complexities of real work. To achieve this learning, reflection is essential. In project work in industry, retrospective reflection on the project process is established practice, e.g. in project debriefings. Student projects often include retrospective reflection as a mandatory exercise seen as important to learning but not as a part of the „real work‟. The research in this thesis is guided by the idea that making retrospective reflection integral to the work practice in project based learning can help students learn more from their project experience. The thesis explores how retrospective reflection in Software Engineering student projects can be supported, particularly taking into account the use of collaboration tools – typically lightweight tools – by teams in their daily project work. To this end, a set of interpretive case studies have been conducted. The studies examine the current use of state-of-the-art lightweight collaboration tools in Software Engineering student projects, focusing on the role of the tools in work and learning within the teams and in collaboration with other project stakeholders. The thesis research also includes studies in which interventions have been made in the projects by introducing facilitated retrospective reflection activities with and without the aid of collaboration tools. These interventions can be considered as initial steps of a design research effort with the aim of improving the pedagogical design of the course as well as developing new theory on reflection in project based learning. The resulting contributions include new knowledge about the use of various types of lightweight collaboration tools to support day-to-day work in the projects; within the teams and in collaboration between the teams and other project stakeholders. These contributions can be used to aid the organization of future SE student projects including the choice and use of collaboration tools in the projects. The thesis also provides insights on how retrospective reflection, seen as a part of a collaborative work practice, can be supported in SE student projects and project work more generally. This research contribution includes a design for retrospective reflection workshops in educational settings (adapted from industry practice and empirically tested in a project course), a prototype tool extending wiki functionality to support navigation of relevant historical data, and empirical results demonstrating how a collaboration tool used in daily project work can be used as an aid to memory in retrospective reflection. Finally, a main contribution of this PhD work is a model of reflection, conceptualized in terms of distributed cognition. Drawing on learning theory as well as current practice for Software Engineering retrospectives, the model represents a novel and practical view of the work-reflection-learning cycle in collaborative work. The model incorporates individual and collaborative steps of reflection on a collaborative work process, making explicit the role of internal and external representations of the process as an aid to reflection. The model also outlines the potential role of collaboration tools in supporting day-to-day work and retrospective reflection on that work, thereby integrating these aspects of the work practice. In this way shedding light on complexities and opportunities related to reflection on collaborative work the model can aid design for retrospective reflection in project based learning in educational and professional settings.