SWE 619 Course Syllabus

Schedule Home page

   OO Software Specification and Construction
   Fall 2020

Professor:  Paul Ammann 
Office:  Zoom
Email:  pammann@gmu.edu
URL:  http://cs.gmu.edu/~pammann/619.html
Class Hours:  Wednesdays 4:30 to 7:10, Online (Blackboard)
Prerequisite:  SWE Foundation Courses or equivalent 
Office Hours:  TBA
GTA Office hours: TBA

Course Description

To give the students a solid understanding of modern software construction. To prepare students to construct sequential and concurrent programs. To encourage the construction of software systems of high quality. In-depth study of software construction in a modern language including control structuring and packaging. Concepts such as information hiding, data abstraction, and object-based and object-oriented software construction are discussed and illustrated. This course is part of the core of the SWE program. This section of 619 uses Java.

Course Materials

Note on the course materials: We'll start with Liskov. Don't worry about the publication date; Liskov is basically a math book, and hence ages remarkably well. We're interested in contracts, mutability, data abstraction, and type abstraction. Bloch is concerned about the same things, but explores them in more detail and in more up-to-date Java. Bloch also corrects some important points that weren't well understood when Liskov's text came out.

Weekly schedule

This class is a group-based, hybrid synchronous, online offering. That means you need to be present in class at class time. You will also need to schedule regular meetings with your group and with me (and possibly the GTA) outside of class.

This is my first offering of this class in a full-time online format. Some of what we will do is extracted directly from the F2F version of this class. Some of what we will do is new for the online offering. We'll keep what works and modify what doesn't.

Each week will cover a small number of related technical issues (see course schedule). Let's call this small number of technical issues a "topic". Each topic will follow roughly the same sequence of preparation, in-class learning activities, homework completion and (possibly) presentation, and knowledge assessment. To make this scale in an online environment, many of these activities will be group based. (See a later section in the syllabus on my view of the importance of interactive learning.) The sequence is:


Oral Assessments

We don't have the bandwidth to have every student complete an oral assessment every week. Each student should expect such an assessment every two to three weeks.



Every student needs to be part of a group. I would prefer that groups stay stable throughout the semester, but if there is a good rationale to reconfigure a group or two, we'll do that.

Group size: 2 to 4 students.

Group creation mechanism: As a default, I'll drop students into groups more or less at random. If you are happy with your random group, great! If you prefer a different group, during the first week you will have the option to re-group. If your group dwindles to just yourself, you'll need to join another group.


SWE 619 will use the Piazza software for a discussion board and for posting updates. Participation on the discussion board counts towards your grade. Here's the deal: A constructive, relevant, non-redundant post earns a Piazza point. Here are some examples: You can earn one Piazza point, but no more, in any given week. (A "week" is defined as the way Piazza tracks weeks.) You're done earning points after you hit the magic number 5, but you are, of course, still welcome to continue posting. Participation must occur during the semester, not after final exams start. Note: starting early is good strategy.

I find anonymous discussions unhelpful in this class; here learning is predicated on interactions. Plus, part of your education is to learn to stand behind your questions and ideas. That's how employees function in the working world. Piazza allows partial, but not complete, control of anonymous posts. Should someone post anonymously, I will ask the poster to change the visibility and ask the class not to respond to the anonymous version.

Homework Assignments

There are weekly group homework assighments. I post homework assignments on the class web site. Generally, your group should submit assignments via Blackboard.

Because of the way in which this class is taught, it is important to stay on pace. Homeworks are due before class. Late submissions are not accepted except in truly exceptional circumstances. Note that groups will present solutions in class.

Solutions and solution checking.

Homeworks are group exercises. Each submission must contain a specific statement of who did what. Further, the group must split their roles on each exercise. Part of the group creates the solution. A separate part of the group checks the solution and explains why it is correct. (This model is common in engineering, where engineers sometimes create solutions and other times certify solutions.) You should rotate roles within your group from week to week.

Final Exam

There will be a final exam appropriate for the online, unproctored nature of this class offering. Last spring's model worked pretty well. I plan to offer an oral option as well as a written option. The last class of the semester will include a detailed discussion of the exam structure and contents.

Class Attendance

I place great emphasis on peer learning and interactive engagement. Here's why. I have structured the class to leverage group interactions to the largest extent possible for the purpose of maximizing learning gain through out the semester.

In-Class Exercises

I plan an in-class exercise for every class. Students will work in their designated group. Some of these exercises need a Java development environment. Very often, the in-class exercises will be closely related to an upcoming homework assignment. These exercises will be used to monitor attendance.

ShowMe Videos

The course schedule page links to a number of short videos created with the ShowMe service. Some students find these helpful for grasping key points from various lectures. Several items of note:
  1. Each ShowMe captures an interaction a student has with me. Such interactions can help students master the material more effectively than having me drone on solo.
  2. I am interested in creating more ShowMe videos for other topics in the course. Contact me if you would like to help me do this. These interactions count towards class participation.
  3. I am open to redoing existing topics if there is something you think could be done better.


Please note that questions of general interest should not be emailed to me. Post on Piazza instead.

Virginia Privacy Laws

The state of Virginia now has laws that require the University (including me) not to disclose student email addresses, phone numbers, and addresses. This will impact communications in this class as follows:

Honor Code

As with all GMU courses, SWE 619 is governed by the GMU Honor Code. In this course, all quizzes and the final exam carry with them an implicit statement that it is the sole work of the author.

Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities (or other conditions documented with GMU Office of Disability Services) who need academic accommodations should see me and contact the Disability Resource Center (DRC) at (703)993-2474. I am more than happy to assist you, but all academic accommodations must be arranged through the DRC.