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Methods, Knowledge and Tools for Distributed Education in Software Engineering

iProject by the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports, project leader professor dr. Mario Žagar. Project code: 2004-125

Development of information and communication technologies (ICT) is based on the concentration of knowledge and skills, and as such must not be limited by time or geographical distance. The term of global software development has been present in the field for the last ten years and is based on distributed software development, regardless of geographical (kilometres, countries) and time distances (time zones) of the teams involved in the development of the same product. Apart from the familiar problems characteristic of «centralised» program engineering, in distributed software development there are additional problems in the establishment of communication between the distributed teams, caused by differences in professional cultures, languages etc. In cooperation with Mälardalen University (MdH), Västerås, Sweden, a pilot project of DSD (Distributed Software Development) course was conducted during the academic year 2003/04, in which the teaching staff and students from both faculties were included in joint instruction delivery and development of student projects. The goals of the project were threefold.

  • Examine the possibilities and evaluate the risks of maintaining distributed instruction (connecting two locations in real time through Internet streaming of image and sound) by using available communication resources
  • Evaluate the feasibility and risks related to the development of student projects which involve simultaneous participation of teams from both faculties
  • Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the existing virtual learning environment, suggest improvements through project tasks for the next generation of students.

As a result of successful implementation of the pilot project, basic knowledge and experience in the development and maintenance of this type of instruction was gathered. However, success was largely based on the enthusiasm of the faculty and students, which compensated primarily for technical problems such as lack of specialised software and communication equipment. Overcoming these problems would ensure a stabilisation and long-term delivery of the course, as well as expansion of knowledge and acquisition of experience in the studied subject. Apart from supporting the delivery of instruction, the gathered knowledge and experience, as well as the results of student projects, would be made available to a wider range of potential users on higher education institutions as well as to interested parties in the economic sector.

The goal of this project is to establish long-term joint delivery of an undergraduate course in program engineering on two faculties, Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing (FER), Zagreb and Mälardalen University (MdH), Västerås, Sweden. Within the course simultaneous delivery of instruction must be ensured, regardless of the location of the students and instructor, by using image and sound Internet streaming. In addition, the project had to enable the students from both locations to work jointly on the software development projects by using synchronous and asynchronous communication technologies and distributed development tools.

The goal of student projects is the development of a tool that would support this type of instruction. One of the desired goals is also to actively include partners from industry (from both countries) with suitable roles in the process of experience and knowledge transfer on distributed implementation of projects and participation in the development of concrete student projects. By participating in this course the students will be acquainted with the technical, social, language and cultural aspects of distance learning in an international environment. Gathered experience and knowledge will be stored in a knowledge base on development and delivery of this type of courses as a support for other similar future projects in higher education, and will be made publicly available through web pages.


The pages will display the technologies that were used and challenges that the team faced during the development of a joint university course.

Apart from lectures, the students participate in practical work in real environment. In order to increase the quality of education, the products developed during the practical part of the course are among the tools used in the next generation of delivery of the same course, and the existence of such tools influenced the student projects, the content of the course and activities in the next year of delivery. Finished projects from the previous two years, as well as the projects of the current academic year, are also described in this paper.

The research results show that students are satisfied with the course in general and that they have acquired enough knowledge and experience that will enable them to successfully participate in distributed projects or manage such projects in the future. Instructors on both sides acquired worthy experience in designing and delivering distance courses, as well as learned how to overcome cultural and language barriers.

Prof.dr.sc. Ivica Crnković and Mr.sc. Rikard Land, both from the Mälardalen University (MdH), Department of Computer Science and Electronics, Västerås, Sweden are responsible for half of the work done in preparing and establishing the described DSD course. We express our gratitude to them for all they have done in the past and will do in the future.