Date of Award

2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Computer and Security Science

Faculty

Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Paul Maj

Second Advisor

Dr David Veal

Abstract

In response to real and perceived short-comings in the quality and productivity of software engineering practices and projects, professionally-endorsed graduate and post-graduate curriculum guides have been developed to meet evolving technical developments and industry demands. Each of these curriculum guidelines identifies better software engineering management skills and soft, peopleware skills as critical for all graduating students, but they provide little guidance on how to achieve this. One possible way is to use a serious game — a game designed to educate players about some of the dynamic complexities of the field in a safe and inexpensive environment. This thesis presents the results of a qualitative research project that used a simple game of a software project to see if and how games could contribute to better software project management education; and if they could, then what features and attributes made them most efficacious. That is, shall we— should we— play games in software engineering management? The primary research tool for this project was a game called Simsoft. Physically, Simsoft comes in two pieces. There is an A0-sized printed game board around which the players gather to discuss the current state of their project and to consider their next move. The board shows the flow of the game while plastic counters are used to represent the staff of the project. Poker chips represent the team’s budget, with which they can purchase more staff, and from which certain game events may draw or reimburse amounts depending on decisions made during the course of the game. There is also a simple Java-based dashboard, through which the players can see the current and historical state of the project in a series of reports and messages; and they can adjust the project’s settings. The engine behind Simsoft is a system dynamics model which embodies the fundamental causal relationships of simple software development projects. In Simsoft game sessions, teams of students, and practicing project managers and software engineers managed a hypothetical software development project with the aim of completing the project on time and within budget (with poker chips left over). Based on the starting scenario of the game, information provided during the game, and their own real-world experience, the players made decisions about how to proceed— whether to hire more staff or reduce the number, what hours should be worked, and so on. After each decision set had been entered, the game was run for another next time period, (a week, a month, or a quarter). The game was now in a new state which the players had to interpret from the game board and decide how to proceed. The findings showed that games can contribute to better software engineering management education and help bridge the pedagogical gaps in current curriculum guidelines. However, they can’t do this by themselves and for best effect they should be used in conjunction with other pedagogical tools. The findings also showed that simple games and games in which the players are able to relate the game world to an external context are the most efficacious.

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