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Christopher Douce

Exploring TM354 Software Engineering

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Over the last year I’ve taken over as the incoming module chair for TM354 Software Engineering, taking over from Leonor Barroca, who has done a brilliant job ever since the module was launched back in 2014. I first learnt about TM354 through a module briefing which took place in September 2014.

What follows is a summary of the various elements that can be found within the TM354 module website. I’ve written this blog whilst wearing my ‘tutor hat’; to help students who are new to this module.

It goes without saying that two of the most important elements are, of course, the module calendar, and the assessment page which provides access to all the TMAs. One thing that I tend to do whenever I study a module is to get a printout of each of the TMAs, using the ‘view as single page’ option, just so I get an early idea about what I have coming up. You should also take some time to review the module guide and the accessibility guide.

Key resources: the blocks

TM354 is based around three printed blocks which can also be downloaded as PDFs by visiting the resources tab:

  • Block 1: Units 1-4 From domain to requirements
  • Block 2: Units 5-8 From analysis to design
  • Block 3: Units 9-12: From architecture to product

Complementing these blocks is, of course, the module glossary, which can be accessed through the resources pages.

In OU modules, the glossary is pretty important. It presents the module team’s definition of key terms. If there is an exam or an EMA question which calls for a definition, you should always draw on terms that are defined by the glossary. A practical tip is: do spend time looking at and going through the module glossary.

Software

There are three bits of software that you will need to use, and the first of these is optional:

A sketching tool: In your TMAs you will be required to draw some sketches using a graphical language called the unified modelling language (UML). UML is a really useful communication tool. It can be used to depict the static structure of software (which bits it contains), and the dynamic interaction between components (which is how they are used with each other). How you draw your diagrams is completely up to you. You can draw a sketch by hand, draw a sketch using the tools that you have in your word processor, or you can download a tool to help you. My recommendation is to use a tool that specifically helps you to draw UML diagrams. This way, the software gives you a bit of help, saving you time (although you have to spend a bit of time learning a tool). I use a tool called Visual Paradigm, which is available under a student licence, but other tools, such as UMLet might be useful. There are a lot of tools available, but if you’re pressured for time, a pencil, ruler and paper, and digital photograph will be sufficient.

ShareSpace: this is an OU tool which you will use to share some of your software designs with fellow students. Software engineering is a team sport. ShareSpace is used to simulate the sharing and collaboration between fellow software engineers. As well as posting your sketches, you will be asked to comment on the design of fellow students. When you leave comments, you will be able to see comments about your own design.

NetBeans: Netbeans is an integrated development environment; a tool for developing software. You will use Netbeans in the final block of the module to look at, and change some software code that relates to design patterns. If you’re familiar with other development environments, such as IntelliJ, or even BlueJ (from earlier studies with M250) you could use those instead.

Forums

The module has a number of forums. A practical recommendation is to subscribe to each of these, so you are sent email copies of the messages that are posted to them. 

There is a module forum, where you can ask questions about the module, and a forum for each of the TMAs. You can use these TMA forums to ask questions about the assessments if you’re unclear about what you need to do. Do bear in mind that the moderator can only offer guidance and might direct you towards relevant bits of the module materials.

There is a tutor group forum, where you can interact with your TM354 tutor. Your tutor may well share some materials through this forum, so it is important that you subscribe to it, or check it from time to time.

There is what is called a ‘online tutorial forum’. Tutorials are run in clusters. What this means is that groups of tutors work together to offer a programme of tutorials (which are sometimes known as learning events). These tutors will use this forum to share resources that relate to their tutorials. They may, for example, post copies of PowerPoint presentations that formed the basis of their tutorials, which may contain useful notes in the notes section of each slide.

Finally, there is the café forum. This is an informal area to chat with fellow students about TM354 and OU study. This area isn’t extensively monitored by the forum moderator.

One thing to note is that sometimes the names of these forum areas can and do change. The names of the forums here might not be the names of the forums that you have on your module website.

Study guides

Although most of the module materials are available through the printed blocks, there are some important elements of the module that are only available online. Within the module calendar, you will see study guide pages. To make sure you go through each of these. Sometimes, these guides are presented along side other accompanying online resources that you need to work through to answer some of the TMA questions.

Resources pages

The Resources pages (which is sometimes known as the resources tab) is a place that collates everything together: all the guides (module, accessibility and software guides), PDF versions of the blocks, online version of each of the units (which can be found within each of the blocks), and any additional resources that need to be studied:

  • Choosing closed-box test cases
  • Monoliths versus microservices
  • Introducing Jakarta EE
  • Implementing use cases

Towards the bottom of this page, there is a link to a zip file which contains some source code that is used with TMA 3, along with some NetBeans software installation instructions.

The final bit of the Resources pages that I would like to emphasise is the Download link, which can be found on the right hand side of the page. Through this link, you can access all the module resources in different formats. You can, for example, download some of the media files onto your mobile device for you to review later, or you can download ePub versions of all the study guides and units onto an e-reader.

iCMAs

TM354 also has a set of interactive marked assessments (iCMAs). These are designed to help you to learn and to remember some of the key module concepts. The iCMAs do not formally contribute to your overall assessment result.

Tutorials

Before my final section, I’ll say something about tutorials. Do try to attend as many as you can. There are tutorials that introduce you to each of the block, and help to guide you through what is required for the TMAs. There are also a series of exam revision tutorials. Do try to attend as many as you can, since different tutors will present ideas in different ways.

Reflections

There is quite a lot to TM354; there are a lot of resources, which take a lot of reading. To familiarise myself with the materials I’ve taken an incremental approach: studying a bit at a time. Although the printed blocks are central to the module, it is important to pay attention to the online materials too.

My biggest tips are:

  • Get a printout of the module guide.
  • Get a printout of each of the TMAs.
  • Make sure that you thoroughly read the module guide. You might want to get a printout of this too.
  • Do remember to regularly refer to the module glossary. These definitions are important.
  • Attend as many tutorials as you can.

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