The Groupthink Specification Exercise
Teaching students to read and write specifications is difficult. It is even more difficult to motivate specifications — to convince students of the value of specifications and make students eager to use them. The Groupthink specification exercise aims to fulfill all these goals. Groupthink is a fun group activity, in the style of a game show, that teaches students about teamwork, communication, and specifications. This exercise teaches students how difficult it is to write an effective specification (determining what needs to be specified, making the choices, and capturing those choices), techniques for getting them right, and criteria for evaluating them. It also gives students practice in doing so, in a fun environment that is conducive to learning. Specifications are used not as an end in themselves, but as a means to solving realistic problems that involve understanding system behavior.
Students enjoy the activity, and it improves their ability to read and write specifications. The two-hour, low-prep activity is self-contained, scales from classes of ten to hundreds of students, and can be split into 2 one-hour sessions or integrated into an existing curriculum. It is freely available from the author (email@example.com), complete with lecture slides, handouts, a scoring spreadsheet, and optional software. Instructors outside MIT have successfully used the materials.
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