Agile practices taught online at a distance

Barroca, Leonor and Kear, Karen (2016). Agile practices taught online at a distance. In: The Online, Open and Flexible Higher Education Conference, 19-21 Oct 2016, Rome.


Agile software development has become, in the last twenty years, a popular approach to software development. It puts people and working software at the forefront of the development process. The emphasis on people stresses development carried out by teams of developers and stakeholders working together for the regular delivery of solutions.
There is long experience of teaching software development at a distance at the Open University, UK; however, teaching agile software development at a distance creates new challenges due to its heavy reliance on face-to-face communication. Developing these skills with students who are at a distance, studying online, and mostly part-time adds significant difficulties.
This paper reports a case study of the use of an online communication tool to help students develop agile communication practices, and to help tutors assess these skills. The tool is based on a studio-based approach to learning, where students work independently and in groups, learning from each other in an apprenticeship model. Using this tool, students share their mental models of problems and solutions, as they would in an agile development team.
A survey was carried out with students and tutors on the perceived impact of the use of this tool in learning; the results are discussed, in particular the importance of supporting students in using the peer feedback they receive in a reflective way in order to improve their work. The lessons learned for improving the quality of the collaboration and the richness of the learning experience are discussed.

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