The Groupthink Specification Exercise

  • Michael D. Ernst
Part of the Lecture Notes in Computer Science book series (LNCS, volume 4309)


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 (, complete with lecture slides, handouts, a scoring spreadsheet, and optional software. Instructors outside MIT have successfully used the materials.


Team Member Remote Control Boot Camp Bonus Point Audience Response System 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Bonwell, C.C., Eison, J.A.: Active Learning: Creating excitement in the classroom. ASHE ERIC Higher Education Report 1, The George Washington University School of Education & Human Development, Washington, D.C., USA (1991)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., Cocking, R.R. (eds.): How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, expanded edn. National Academy Press, Washington (2000)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Chickering, A.W., Gamson, Z.F.: Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin 39(7), 3–7 (1987)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    eInstruction. eInstruction — the global leader in interactive response systems,
  5. 5.
    Ernst, M.D., Chapin, J.: The Groupthink specification exercise. In: Inverardi, P., Jazayeri, M. (eds.) ICSE 2005. LNCS, vol. 4309, pp. 617–618. Springer, Heidelberg (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Felder, R.M., Silverman, L.K.: Learning and teaching styles in engineering education. Engineering Education 78(7), 674–681 (1988)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    GTCO CalComp. InterWrite products,
  8. 8.
    HyperInteractive Teaching Technology. Hiitt (classroom remote system),
  9. 9.
    Leiserson, C., Masi, B., Resto, C., Yue, D.K.P.: Development of engineering professional abilities in a co-curricular program for engineering sophomores. In: ASEE Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah, June 20–23 (2004)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    McConnell, J.J.: Active learning and its use in computer science. In: ITiCSE 1996: the 1st Conference on Integrating Technology into Computer Science Education, Barcelona, Spain, June 1996, pp. 52–54 (1996)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    McKeachie, W.J.: Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers, 10th edn. Houghton Mifflin, Boston (1999)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Moon, J.A.: Reflection in learning — some fundamentals of learning, part 1. In: Reflection in Learning and Professional Development, Theory and Practice, ch. 9, pp. 103–119. Kogan Page, Sterling (2001)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Mühlhäuser, M., Trompler, C.: Digital lecture halls keep teachers in the mood and learners in the loop. In: Elearn, Montreal, QC, Canada, October 2002, pp. 714–721 (2002)Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ratto, M., Shapiro, R.B., Truong, T.M., Griswold, W.G.: The ActiveClass project: Experiments in encouraging classroom participation. In: CSCL 2003: the International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, Bergen, Norway, June 2003, pp. 477–486 (2003)Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Siegel, J.A., Schmidt, K.J., Cone, J.: INTICE — Interactive Technology to Improve the Classroom Experience. In: 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition, Washington, D.C., USA (June 2004)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Springer, L., Stanne, M.E., Donovan, S.S.: Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research 69(1), 21–51 (Spring 1999)Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Trompler, C., Mühlhäuser, M., Wegner, W.: Open client lecture interaction: An approach to wireless learners-in-the-loop. In: ICNEE 2002: the 4th International Conference on New Educational Environments, Lugano, Switzerland, May 2002, pp. 24–46 (2002)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Turning Technologies, LLC. Audience response system, group response system,
  19. 19.
    Wake Forest University Information Systems Research and Development Team. Classinhand,
  20. 20.
    Wolfman, S.A.: Understanding and Promoting Interaction in the Classroom through Computer Mediated Communication in the Classroom Presenter System. PhD thesis, University of Washington Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Seattle, Washington (2004)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael D. Ernst
    • 1
  1. 1.MIT Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence LabCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations