Teaching with Mendix: Adopting a Low-Code Platform Helps Eliminate Technical Debt in Classrooms


on September 22, 2017

Many Information Systems, Management & Information Systems, and Computers & Information Systems professors start the year with students who have a wide range of programming experience and coding skills. This creates a challenge when trying to create a project-based learning experience for students to apply the concepts they learn in the standard IS courses – requirements gathering, data modeling, business process modeling, prototyping, user interface design, agile development – to a real-world project where they design a web or mobile application as the system to solve the business challenge presented in the use-case.

Professor George Wyner of Boston College was experiencing these challenges with his Systems Analysis & Design course in the IS (Information Systems) major at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management. The objective of his course is to provide students who intend to pursue a career in system development with experiential learning opportunities to gain familiarity and fluency with widely used techniques for the design and improvement of information systems.

However, as a result of the varied backgrounds of his students, multiple technologies and coding languages were required to teach and apply the core concepts of his course. This challenge is echoed by dozens of professors teaching systems analysis & design. The following technologies are a few examples of what professors are using to teach the core concepts of IS courses:

  • Microsoft Visio was used for students to learn visual prototyping and business process modeling,
  • Java, Python and .Net were used for students to learn a basic introduction to programming and development methodologies
  • Visual Basic was used for students to learn visual modeling/prototyping
  • Microsoft Access, Oracle Database and Oracle APEX were used for students to learn some database design
  • Microsoft project was used for project management
  • WordPress was used for prototyping and plug-ins
  • A SharePoint site was used as a design repository (collaboration & document sharing
  • AWS or Google was used for hosting in addition to screen layouts, navigation, menus and the database aspects, and the requirements specifications
  • Trello was used for project management, collaboration, and agile development
  • CASE tools were used to develop large-scale systems

When it came time for Professor Wyner’s students to develop a real-world use case of an application, they had to resort to outlining and presenting the app in Oracle APEX rather than actually developing the app. Oracle APEX was used to get started on a project because the students are mostly comfortable with SQL, but making the interface and functionality match their goals requires experience in this tool that students don’t have and it is difficult to acquire these skills during a semester that is focused on other learning goals.

This considerable tech debt in the curriculum ends up distracting the students and detracting from the learning experience. The prototyping tools force the students to trade off between compromising on their prototype’s functionality or spending time learning these technologies that are not directly related to the core learning objectives in the syllabus.

The Mendix Solution

Mendix is a low-code application development platform that allows students who don’t know how to code to develop mobile and web applications quickly and easily. No programming experience needed! Mendix eliminates the extensive list of tech and replaces it with one platform that enables them to receive hands-on experience with the process of building and deploying working applications.

Ready for the best part? When professors choose to use the Mendix Platform in their classrooms, each student receives a free license for the platform through the Mendix University Program. This means students can build as many applications as they want. Mendix will host the applications so students don’t need their own cloud environments. There is also no need for students to develop, maintain or integrate with an external database because the database is built right in Mendix.

Introducing Mendix to the BC Classroom

Starting this school year, Professor Wyner’s Systems Analysis & Design course will be using a free license of the Mendix Platform as their prototyping tool. This is just one example of the Mendix Platform in a classroom. The low-code platform will alleviate the tech debt and will enable students to build and deploy working applications for their projects throughout the school year. Mendix will help facilitate students to gain familiarity and hands-on experience with a set of widely used techniques that students are required to master throughout the course, including how to use agile methods to develop an information system that meets a set of requirements.

The Mendix Platform has enabled my Systems Analysis & Design students to get hands-on experience quickly building and deploying working applications regardless of their technical backgrounds, which are diverse.” – George Wyner, Associate Professor of Information Systems at Boston College

The Mendix Platform will be integral to enabling the semester-long project in which students will work in small teams to develop a set of requirements and a prototype for an information system which addresses business needs of an actual client. Visual modeling using the Mendix microflows feature (which is based on standard BPMN – business process modeling notation) enables the students to visually diagram the business processes.

The integrated Agile development features allow the students to adopt a more agile development process in the classroom with an opportunity for students to get feedback from stakeholders, the professor, teaching assistants, and industry mentors, and iterate on that feedback.  Students are exposed to a more realistic development environment incorporating scrum, version control, and code repositories. This allows students to be more collaborative, process-oriented and self-directed than what is typical of students with varied programming and coding backgrounds.

Learning the Mendix Platform

Mendix offers numerous ways for students and professors to learn Mendix in preparation for integrating Mendix in university curriculum, all of which are free. Onsite classroom training courses are offered to professors for free, in contrast to the $2,500 our customers pay. And the certification exam, normally $600, is also offered for free to students and professors.

Many professors have asked if there are any hard costs incurred by the university in taking Mendix into course curriculum, and the answer surprises most professors; no fees, no costs incurred! The costs of the certification exams, the professor classroom training seats and the academic licenses of the Mendix platform are fully underwritten by the Mendix University program. With our free university program, Mendix is making an investment in our customers by training students to become Mendix developers that our customers can hire, ensuring they are certified to meet the quality standard that our customers look for in Mendix developers.

Professors using Mendix in their classrooms have chosen to learn the platform in different ways. Professor Wyner used the self-paced online introductory training videos and took the online certification exam, free for professors, to become Mendix certified. Professor Bengisu Tulu at Worcester Polytechnic Institute chose to attend onsite classroom training at the Mendix Boston office, using 2 free professor seats valued at $2,500 for herself and her teaching assistant to learn Mendix and become Mendix certified.  Another professor at Florida Gulf Coast University used the free Mendix license to not only facilitate his syllabus, but also his personal research project.

Further Opportunities for Students to Make the Most of Their Mendix Training

Mendix is running a student app contest, inviting students from around the world to build an app using Mendix and share the app with us. Whether you’re learning Mendix in the classroom from your professor and want to submit your Mendix app from class, you have to create an app for a class assignment and can use any technology you choose, you’re simply creating an app for fun, or you use Mendix to create an app for your job or extracurricular club, you can submit it to the Mendix Student App Contest for a chance to win.

Additionally, students take the Mendix certification exam through their courses. Adding the Mendix Certification to resumes and LinkedIn profiles is a competitive differentiator for any student seeking a full-time job or an internship. A Mendix certification is highly sought after by employers worldwide. Career opportunities for students utilizing their new Mendix skills are abundant and growing daily. Tech-savvy business students who may be considering going into consulting at one of the big firms are finding opportunities at prestigious Mendix customers and Mendix partners as Mendix consultants and analysts.

Conclusion

Enabling a broad range of students with different coding skills to learn the technical, management, team development, and interpersonal skills necessary for system analysis and design is important for the next generation of students. Systems analysis and design is not a subject to be studied only by those who intend to become professional systems developers or consultants. In the coming years, as technology advances and job roles continue to develop and change, we will all likely be end users of information technology and therefore directly involved in creating systems requirements, if not analysis and design.