Pandemic Software Development: The Student Experiences from Developing a COVID-19 Information Dashboard

by   Benjamin Koh, et al.
Monash University

The COVID-19 pandemic has birthed a wealth of information through many publicly accessible sources, such as news outlets and social media. However, gathering and understanding the content can be difficult due to inaccuracies or inconsistencies between the different sources. To alleviate this challenge in Australia, a team of 48 student volunteers developed an open-source COVID-19 information dashboard to provide accurate, reliable, and real-time COVID-19 information for Australians. The students developed this software while working under legislative restrictions that required social isolation. The goal of this study is to characterize the experiences of the students throughout the project. We conducted an online survey completed by 39 of the volunteering students contributing to the COVID-19 dashboard project. Our results indicate that playing a positive role in the COVID-19 crisis and learning new skills and technologies were the most cited motivating factors for the students to participate in the project. While working on the project, some students struggled to maintain a work-life balance due to working from home. However, the students generally did not express strong sentiment towards general project challenges. The students expressed more strongly that data collection was a significant challenge as it was difficult to collect reliable, accurate, and up-to-date data from various government sources. The students have been able to mitigate these challenges by establishing a systematic data collection process in the team, leveraging frequent and clear communication through text, and appreciating and encouraging each other's efforts. By participating in the project, the students boosted their technical (e.g., front-end development) and non-technical (e.g., task prioritization) skills. Our study discusses several implications for students, educators, and policymakers.


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