Weekend Lectures

Dafydd Vaughan on 6 December 2006

Professor Holger Schlingloff from Humboldt University in BerlinThis year, the Computer Science department at Swansea developed and organised a special module for a small selection of third years.  This special module – “Advanced Topics in Computer Science: Testing” – is a complete break away from traditional Computer Science style courses.  Unlike every other module I have taken over the past two and a half years, this one is taught during 6 (2 hour) seminar / lectures over the space of 2 weeks instead of the usual 2 lectures a week for 12 weeks.  In addition to this, the lectures were taught by a professor from Humboldt University in Berlin – Professor Holger Schlingloff (pictured on the right).  On top of all of this, instead of holding the lectures during normal weekday office hours, they were held on Saturdays and Sundays.  However, despite this inconvenience, there are some advantages to this module.  In yet another break from the norm, this module is 100% coursework, which means one less exam for me.  All I have to do is produce a 25/30 minute presentation and a 20 page dissertation on the subject.  Much better than a horrible two hour exam!

So, what is this module about?  As the title suggests, it is all about software testing and making sure software does what it is expected to do.  For years and years, the attitude towards testing software has been in the realm of idiotic.  It has been treated as unimportant and unnecessary.  As long as a piece of software appears to do the correct thing, that’s been good enough – and for a while, it was.  Of course, this has probably (almost definitely!) contributed to the bad image of software development.  As a result, it has become essential to change attitudes and develop policies for effective testing of software.  Over the last few years testing has become as important, if not more important than actually coding the program that is being developed.  The purpose of this module was to introduce us to all the various ways and steps involved in testing the applications we produce as computer scientists.  This is also why Professor Schlingloff has been involved in both the development and teaching of the module.  His expertise in both his research into testing and industry experience was an essential component.

My last few weekends have been taken up with this course and although I am now completely out of sync and can’t tell what day it is, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  One of the major contributing factors has to be the informal way it was taught.  Instead of the lecturer walking into a lecture theatre, rambling on for an hour or so, it was much more laid back.  Regular breaks for tea/ coffee as well as long lunch breaks for pizza or a meal at Pub on the Pond definitely made a huge difference.

I seriously hope the department will take the success of this module into account when planning next year’s modules and that it becomes a regular feature for final year students in the department.  If they run a similar one next year, I will be very tempted to go to it, even if I don’t get any degree credits for it!

Any views stated here are my own and not those of my employer unless otherwise stated.