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Computer Science: Active Learning in Computing (ALiC)

Employability

Activity name Employability
Participants Newcastle, Leeds Met and Durham Aims Covered: 2
Timescales June 2007 to June 2008
Background

In this activity we will consolidate the previous work by ALiC on collaborative cross-site development work between students on our Software Engineering modules at Durham and Newcastle and between multi-disciplinary teams and industrial customers at Leeds Met in order to embed realistic projects and group working opportunities into the CS curriculum. These projects will allow students to develop the skills employers consider important e.g. communication, teamworking, problem solving etc. as well as further enhance their technical skills. It is imperative to include this realistic perspective when seeking to help our graduates develop both their technical and transferable skills in groupwork situations and thereby enhance their employability.

The pedagogical aims of this activity are to:

  • Give students an insight into Software Engineering in an industrial context and make problem solving more realistic.
  • Allow staff and students to evaluate various technologies for collaborative working.
  • Seek the views of employers on how to embed employability into the CS curriculum by involving them in the design and implementation of our team projects.
  • Embed the use of reflective learning activities such as Personal Development Portfolios to support students' communication and enhance their exploration and development of the requisite skills needed for employment in the Computing industry.
Activity

This activity has two strands:

1.  Cross Site Software Engineering Project between Durham and Newcastle.

This activity involves an industrial partner, (P & G), who have provided us with a case study and are willing to act as a real ‘customer’ throughout the academic year.  The introduction of Procter and Gamble in our cross-site work means that students can benefit from their expertise and we can ensure that our work is realistic and valid as a means of increasing the employability of our students.  Through this activity we hope to gain a greater understanding of the skills that make our students attractive to employers and use this information to enhance our curriculum design in the future. Another element of this activity is the continued development and improvement of Newcastle E-learning Support System (NESS), to support group and project work. We have already evaluated some of the other communication technologies used in the cross-site activity such as video conferencing and instant messaging as well as the use of  the online forums and shared repositories and this work will continue.

2.  Multi-Disciplinary Team Projects at Leeds Met.  

Leeds Met has implemented a number of initiatives designed to support employability of students across a broad range of computing disciplines, especially in the use of multi-disciplinary student teams and the involvement of external clients in group and project work. A key difference between the approaches adopted by Newcastle and Durham and those used at Leeds Met is the less-formal arrangements with local businesses and charities who are keen to engage students in a project from design to completion. Leeds Met. will continue to report on the approaches adopted and transfer details to Newcastle and Durham for a comparative study on the way employability is supported in different institutional settings. 

Evaluation
  • Industry perceptions of the realism of our approach.
  • Evaluation of the products and processes of the cross-site teams, by employers and ALiC  staff.
  • Evaluation of the types of suitable projects - types we have used and their levels of success, problems.
  • Evaluate feedback from students and partners on the effectiveness of the work.
  • Measure and review the levels of student engagement.
  • Student evaluation of the tools and technologies made available to support their team and cross-site working.
Expected outcomes
  • A clearer understanding of what each stakeholder can offer and how this can drive curriculum change.
  • Students gaining experience of the problems surrounding large-scale development.
  • Students developing the transferable skills sought by employers. Positive industrial perceptions of our approach.
  • Dissemination of approach to other HE disciplines and institutions.
  • Identification and later incorporation of key features of support tools and student learning-environments that support this activity.
  • Adaptation of the tools within the consortium.
Expected outputs
  1. A set of case studies and support materials suitable for use by other HE institutions.
  2. Papers and experience reports for dissemination to consortium partners and the wider HE audience.
  3. Procedures to ensure that no student fails on account of the poor performance of another in teamworking situations, particularly with regard to cross-site collaboration as this presents new challenges.
Risks
  • No interest from industrialists - Mitigation :We have had great interest from employers who want to participate in this activity and we will continue to work with them to ensure that our approach is relevant and realistic - regular evaluation of our approach.
  • Industrialists driving an agenda for their personal gain, for instance expecting students to do their development work without consideration for students' education or development - Mitigation: offer varying levels of support; Monitor: TF and site managers
  • Students not properly communicating - this is part of the student learning experience but we will monitor and control problems as they occur. Mitigration: develop support materials.
  • General problems with group-working - share ALiC 's expertise in dealing with and preventing these problems.
  • Tool enhancements transfer to other sites - since most development expertise is currently concentrated at Newcastle. Mitigation: ensure that the development expertise is disseminated across the consortium.
  • Students not participating - Mitigation: help students to see the benefit and reduce the overhead of creation.
  • Some general risks pertaining to group work have been minimised due to prior evaluation of the original cross-site activity