Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Employability and Teaching

Employability has always been an important part of university education. The idea that students enrolled to explore the miseries of the universe and to think deep thoughts is a myth. Universities were established to provide trained professionals for industry and government. Those teaching the students therefore need to be trained in how to teach and test real-world skills. 

One way to make students more employable is to have them undertake internships and group projects. In ANU Techlauncher, computing students with group projects for a real clients. Their last assessment task is to write a job application

Providing the resources for Work Integrated Learning (WIL), is a challenge. The classes I help have 200 to 300 students. This could scale to any size, using group work tools from the IT industry. The limiting factor is the availability of suitable tutors.

WIL provides the opportunity to build partnerships with industry. The best partnerships are driven by student involvement which brings staff together. Innovation centers, such as Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) are also a useful. Just having some sort of committee doesn't really help. Adjunct and honorary staff with industry backgrounds also helps.

Hackerthons can help as a quick lightweight supplement to WIL. Student involvement in innovation centers is also useful. An example of a good story is an ANU student start-up on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list

However, it takes training, as well as real world experience, for teaching staff to provide WIL. Australian universities tend to showcase teaching, but neglect basic teacher training for staff. School and TAFE teachers are required to have formal AQF qualifications, whereas university teachers are not. Unfortunately the priority at universities is research. One way to get researchers to take teacher training more seriously would be to emphasize how this will reduce work for them, so they can spend more time on research. This training can be done without making staff sit in classroom, but by Dogfooding: give the staff the learning experience we want them to provide their students.

AQF aligned micro-credentials provide the opportunity to rethink how teacher training is provided at universities. These could act as a minimum qualification which tutors are expected to have to teach. This would replace classroom based training courses with documenting experience, and peer support. Tutors could be offered free training, but then get credit for a qualification, by paying the usual course fees. Microcredentials could be nested into certificate/graduate certificates, diploma, degrees/masters of education. Staff could have the option of completing certifications for professional bodies as a byproduct.

Students training for the professions could be offered the same teaching courses as university staff, as teaching/supervision is part of being a professional. As an example, the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), is used for accrediting computing degrees in Australia. SFIA includes skills definitions for learning management, learning design, learning delivery, competency assessment, certification scheme operation, teaching, and subject formation.

Australian universites should maintain membership of national and international education bodies (such as ASCILITE, ACEN, and EDUCAUSE), and host events under their auspices. This will help guide staff, and lift the level of knowledge of education. This will help with emerging fields, such as co-design with students,  which require specialist skills currently not part of teacher training.

A modest proposal: I suggest an "Indo-Pacific Education Innovation Institute" to the new federal government, with $100M funding over ten years. This would train students from the region, alongside Australians, in advanced digital teaching techniques. 

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