Otago IS students build systems for the 'real world'

Information Science courses aim to match what the students will be exposed to in the real world, says lecturer

Information Science students at Otago University have developed a Digital Audio Streaming System (DASS), allowing music to be distributed wirelessly over the internet to any organisation, home or vehicle using real-time streaming and instant downloads.

The second-year project involved the development of a number of object-oriented models for the music delivery project, says Brendon Woodford, coordinator and primary lecturer for second- and third-year courses in the Information Science department.

The students were the junior developers of the project, Woodford says. They used Sybase PowerDesigner to model the content subsystem, which stores the recordings, and the delivery subsystem, which manages the payment gateway and music delivery.

The students designed the system but never got to the point of implementing it, says Woodford, but as part of a third-year course, students will now work to implement the DASS system in the real world.

Otago University works with a number of vendors, for example Microsoft, Oracle and Sybase to meet key learning objectives, but also so students will learn how to develop systems, which they will actually find in the real world once they leave university, says Woodford.

The different products tend to complement each other, he says. “From our perspective we are looking for products that enable us to teach the students well, rather than focusing on the products themselves,” he says.

Microsoft has by far the biggest presence, says Andrew Long, coordinator and lecturer for the first-year e-business and IS development courses.

“We tend to pick what tools are going to meet our learning objectives, but also which are relevant for industry, so .Net and Visual Studio are examples of that,” he says.

“Ease of use and quality of the experience are important, particularly in the first year where we run a kind of a survey course which introduces students to a lot of things quickly and often quite superficially,” says Long.

Some of Woodford’s third-year students use PowerDesigner to develop models for small businesses.

“Anecdotally, through speaking to employers with whom our graduates have secured positions, we found they wanted graduates exposed to a high-end CASE [computer-aided software engineering] tool to enable them to understand all phases in the development of an information system rather than a focus on one tool for modelling and another for implementation,” says Woodford.

Using, for example, PowerDesigner enables students to get to grips with the ideas associated with using enterprise level technology, says Woodford. “It also allows them to focus on solving the problem at hand, rather than getting to grips with the product itself,” he says.

Enrolment numbers for Information Science courses at Otago University haven’t decreased in the last couple of years, says Woodford. The students are quite interested to know that they will learn to use tools that are not “embedded within academia”, but actually used by many companies, he says. The course is trying to match what the students will be exposed to in the real world, he says.

Graham Copson, technical manager at the Department of Information Science at Otago University, approached Sybase two years ago, after Long and Woodford expressed interest in using PowerDesigner. Sybase let Otago University join the Sybase Educational Licensing Program it had running in Australia, he says.

The education dollar seems to be shrinking more and more, says Copson.

“It’s great to see companies coming onboard and making the software available at affordable prices,” he says.

The benefits are mutual for students and the vendors, he says.

However, one company, which took “a massive backwards step a few years ago”, is Borland, he adds. “When we were dealing with the local New Zealand office there was tremendous flexibility. All that disappeared when control got taken back by the US. Suddenly, there was a one-package-fits-all [approach], which was unfortunate.”

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