Involving External Stakeholders in Project Courses

Steghöfer, J-P., Burden, H., Hebig, R., Calikli, G., Feldt, R., Hammouda, I., Horkoff, J., Knauss, E., Liebel, G.
Type of publication: 
Journal article

The involvement of external stakeholders in capstone projects and project courses is desirable due to its potential positive effects on the students. Capstone projects particularly profit from the inclusion of an industrial partner to make the project relevant and help students acquire professional skills. In addition, an increasing push towards education that is aligned with industry and incorporates industrial partners can be observed. However, the involvement of external stakeholders in teaching moments can create friction and could, in the worst case, lead to frustration of all involved parties.

We developed a model that allows analysing the involvement of external stakeholders in university courses both in a retrospective fashion, to gain insights from past course instances, and in a constructive fashion, to plan the involvement of external stakeholders.

Key Concepts:
The conceptual model and the accompanying guideline guide the teachers in their analysis of stakeholder involvement. The model is comprised of several activities (define, execute, and evaluate the collaboration). The guideline provides questions that the teachers should answer for each of these activities. In the constructive use, the model allows teachers to define an action plan based on an analysis of potential stakeholders and the pedagogical objectives. In the retrospective use, the model allows teachers to identify issues that appeared during the project and their underlying causes. Drawing from ideas of the reflective practitioner, the model contains an emphasis on reflection and interpretation of the observations made by the teacher and other groups involved in the courses.

Key Lessons:
Applying the model retrospectively to a total of eight courses shows that it is possible to reveal hitherto implicit risks and assumptions and to gain a better insight into the interaction between external stakeholders and students. Our empirical data reveals seven recurring risk themes that categorise the different risks appearing in the analysed courses. These themes can also be used to categorise mitigation strategies to address these risks pro-actively. Additionally, aspects not related to external stakeholders, e.g., about the interaction of the project with other courses in the study program, have been revealed. 
The constructive use of the model for one course has proved helpful in identifying action alternatives and finally deciding to not include external stakeholders in the project due to the perceived cost-benefit-ratio. 

Implications to practice:
Our evaluation shows that the model is a viable and useful tool that allows teachers to reason about and plan the involvement of external stakeholders in a variety of course settings, and in particular in capstone projects.

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Published in: 
ACM Transactions on Computing Education (TOCE)