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Workplace wiki a wakeup for uni book-smarts

Workplace wiki a wakeup for uni book-smarts

Industry pros teach students how to survive IT

Andrew Litchfield (Photo credit: UTS)

Andrew Litchfield (Photo credit: UTS)

A new online wiki project developed by the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) is helping to better prepare university graduates for the workforce.

Research conducted by the UTS Work-Ready Project team has found employers are increasingly looking to employ graduates who have learned a certain set of skills in addition to the practical knowledge inherited from their degrees.

UTS Faculty of Engineering and IT senior lecturer and Work-Ready Project leader, Andrew Litchfield, said government and professional bodies have been calling for universities to better prepare graduates for the workforce since the 1990s.

“So it raises the question: should university education focus on learning the body of knowledge of a profession? Maybe it should also be about learning the attributes in the context of a profession,” Litchfield said.

Initiated in 2007, the now live wiki is an online collaboration of professionally-contextualised learning activities designed to assist academics with the development and implementation work-ready learning activities and new subjects into the existing curriculum.

The faculty previously acquired a paid professional work-placement year for their students, but this has stopped being a compulsory component in the Bachelor of IT due to industry downturn.

The project team collaborated with professional societies to identify eleven professional work-ready attributes:

  • Ethics and Professionalism
  • Global & Local Perspectives
  • Information Literacy and Management
  • Initiative, Enterprise and Creativity
  • Planning and Organising
  • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
  • Research
  • Self-Management and Life-Long Learning
  • Teamwork & Leadership
  • Technology Literacy

“We interviewed all the professional societies in business and IT and found a common group of attributes, all of which are in a university degree…but they’re not explicit. This project is about making them more visible and in the process students get credit towards work-ready attributes,” Litchfield said.

Faculty lecturer Alan Sixsmith has implemented problem solving activities from the work-ready wiki into his project management and IT outsourcing classes.

“Most of the things you do throughout an IT career require problem solving, whether it’s solved with a technical solution or by analysing something and coming up with a report and some recommendations,” Sixsmith said, adding that students are taught to problem solve in group environments common in the IT industry.

Australian Computer Society (ACS) academic principal Dr David Lindley, who contributed to the wiki, said university graduates must have work-ready skills to be able to compete for employment.

"Arguably the most important work-ready attributes are technical skills, communication skills, a positive attitude and a willingness to have a go, and to have at least the basic skills upon which to develop and specialise, and [make] contacts," said Lindley.

The wiki contains enough information to allow academics to cherry-pick attributes and disciplines most appropriate for their students.

There are more than 300 learning activities already in the wiki, each designed to take 50 minutes within a tutorial or laboratory class.

The online activities link to downloadable teaching support resources, usually in the form of lecture slides, tutorial activities, case studies, hand-outs and readings.

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