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Grad school reveals 'disruptive approach' to ICT education

Divina Paredes | March 3, 2017
An interview with Stuart Charters, director of the South Island Graduate Network and Laboratories.

The newly-opened South Island Graduate Network and Laboratories (SIGNAL) is described as a ‘disruptive ICT grad school’ by its director Dr Stuart Charters.

“SIGNAL has adopted a continuous improvement model and has worked in partnership with the South Island ICT sector in developing its programmes,” he tells CIO New Zealand.

SIGNAL was established in response to the call by Tertiary Education Commission and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to establish (ICT) graduate schools.

“We will provide a much more work-like environment and the students will be involved in group projects,” he says.

“We are not using traditional lectures and labs but we are spending most of our time working in teams. We will have breakout workshops and seminars that allow us to explore areas in depth.”

This is quite quite different from a traditional university setup where students pick a range of courses and they will be taught to sit within the university timetable system, he states.

“We designed the programme with a significant amount of industry inputs and we are using the problem-based learning approach.

“We are using real-world industry projects as the input and industry-like projects as the basis for our teaching,” he says.

SIGNAL programmes are based in two locations, Christchurch and Dunedin “close to industry”.

SIGNAL is a collaboration among five educational institutions - the University of Canterbury, University of Otago, Ara Institute of Canterbury, Otago Polytechnic, and Lincoln University.

The school will provide ICT training to people of all backgrounds, says Charters, who is also head of department and senior lecturer in software and information technology at Lincoln University.

An important aspect of encouraging young people to consider STEM and ICT is to expose them to the wide range of roles that are available and demystify what actually happens in these careers

This is reflected in the four key programmes that target different ICT professionals, he says.

Educate: This programme will upskill teachers to deliver the computer science and programming parts of the NCEA Digital Technologies curriculum, says Charters.

Shift: This is for graduates of a non-IT degree who want to transition into an IT role - either in a technical or allied position. “This is a one year programme taught in a studio environment with industry projects and industry delivery into the programme,” says Charters.

Accelerate: “This is for recent graduates in their first IT role and is designed as a work based learning programme with coaching and mentoring to help develop them in their new role and to be delivering value more quickly for their new employer,” says Charters. “The programme involves academic, industry and employer mentors.”

 

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