Course analysis for Software Engineering (MVK), spring -98

Author: Karl Meinke, NADA

Below is a course analysis for the course on software engineering.

Course Data

The course was taught in spring 1998 and consisted of:
Lectures: 28 hours
Exercises: 14 hours
Coursebook: Software Engineering by Ian Sommerville (1997) (5th Ed), also "Software Engineering Standards" by C. Mazza et al. (1994)
Number of students: 43.
Student performance: first exam, 37 students attended, 3 VG, 27 G, 7 IG.
second exam: 12 students attended, 1 VG, 8 G, 4 IG.
2 students remain who have not passed the course. 1 student dropped out during the course.
Course leader: Karl Meinke
Assistents: none.


To cover all phases of the waterfall software development lifecycle. Also to cover related quality assurance issues such as formal methods. The course is intended to give assistance to the project course. In particular, a specific industrial standard for lifecycle documentation is discussed, namely the PSS 05 standard issued by the European Space Agency (ESA).


This course went quite well. The project nature of the practical work is a challenge for most students. Integrating this with theoretical course work is meanwhile a challenge for the teacher! Project work also makes it difficult to employ lab assistants who have too little experience of application areas, and industrial practise. I will try to improve this problem by supporting industrial partners to sponsor projects next year.


The course was intended to closely follow Sommerville's book. This is widely accepted as a standard university text - now in its 5th edition. It used extensively in Great Britain, and also used in Sweden (e.g. Uppsala University). Roughly one half of the book was used. For this year, the slides produced to accompany the book, which are publicly available on the web, were used, as well as own material. The former were unsuccessful, probably for several reasons. Partly they follow the book very literally - adding nothing new. Partly they are written in a graphically very boring style. The book itself is acceptable. It covers most issues that need to be discussed. However, it is often superficial in its treatment of the subject. Despite this it is an accepted standard. There is no book to my knowledge that could be described as "clearly better". This seems to be the experience of many teachers for this subject.


Exercise classes were used for two purposes. Partly to go through material from Mazza et al, which presents a concrete standard for documentation of the development process (PSS 05), and partly for students to present the results of their documentation work. PSS 05 also contains components of IEEE documentation standards, 828, 829, 1012, etc. Three reports were to be produced as part of the project exercise, namely a user requirements document, systems requirement document and an architectural design document.

The framework for documentation presented in PSS 05 is concrete. Nevertheless, it is loose in many respects, with the anticipation that it can be tailored to very different in-house styles. Generally students found this aspect difficult to cope with, and perceived it to be difficult to bridge this gap. They had great difficulty interpreting the technical documentation concepts to their own software engineering projects.


Since no previous examination papers were available (new course), a random selection of essay style questions were taken from Sommerville. Thus students were exposed to the syle of the questions before the exam. Despite a significant percentage of students receiving the grade "godkänd", the average mark was quite low (av mark 21 out of 40 on tentan, 21.5 on omtentan). Both the answers presented, and the marks received suggested that students had done little to prepare themselves, despite having the questions available beforehand.

Students seemed to have great difficulty in understanding what is meant by an essay, and complained that the questions are vague. Probably this style of question is unfamiliar to them, although it is commonly used in Britain.

Student questionnaire

A student questionnaire was developed by the students themselves. This was mainly in the form of opinion taking, and did not give numerical statistics.

However, we can present a sample of comments reflecting points made above.

General impressions on the course.

Kursen är bra: Bra faktaurval, men den hade kunnat vara betydligt mycket bättre om den var mer integrerad med resten av våra kurser. Han hade kunnat hålla högre tempo.

General impressions on exercise classes.

Vi gick igenom hur rapporterna skulle utformas, vilket var bra. Men jag tycker att en del av tiden borde gått till att låta oss börja jobba gruppvis på rapporten redan på lektionen och att läraren kunde gå runt till alla grupper och svara på frågor och hjälpa till med eventuella problem.

General impressions on report writing.

Nyttigt att skriva dokumenten. Skulle varit bra om vår svenskurs kommit tidigare.

Hela tiden ganska oklart hur rapporteringen skulle ske. Även efter förklaringar från kursledaren.

What did you think of oral project presentations?

Ingen gillar väl muntliga redovisningar.

General impressions on group work.

För små grupper för att kännas som ett projekt. Känns mer som en labb. Att gruparbetet inte funkat som det ska har mest berott på enstaka individers disciplinära problem. De 60 minuterna har gått åt till att mejla tidigare nämnda person.

Bra med fyramannagrupper.


The course book may possibly be altered next year, though it is too soon to say which text would be chosen. PSS 05 will be retained however, since there is no substitute for this kind of material. Based on consultation with the students, material on the basic waterfall model will be reduced, while greater detail will be given to more technical subjects such as formal methods. The minimum size of project groups will be increased from 4 to 6 next year.

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Last changed May 10 1998
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