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Grad school reveals 'disruptive approach' to ICT education

Grad school reveals 'disruptive approach' to ICT education

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.

We are adopting a continuous improvement model with significant industry inputs

Dr Stuart Charters, South Island Graduate Network and Laboratories

“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.

Dr Stuart Charters
Dr Stuart Charters

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.”

Xtend: This is for senior staff in IT roles who are looking to take on more leadership - managerial, technical or peer roles within their organisation. “This is a work-based learning programme involving mentors from academia and industry,” he explains.

“IT pervades practically every industry, having a good grasp of computational thinking and other STEM concepts provides a great toolkit whatever career you go into and whatever direction your career takes you,” he says on the range of SIGNAL’s programmes.

“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,” he adds.

Charters discusses the upsides of having the ICT school based in the South Island.

“The South Island has a very vibrant tech community and is a great place to live and work,” he says.

A well, the five SIGNAL partners have a wide range of collaborations nationally and internationally.

“SIGNAL will be building on those relationships where appropriate and forging new ones to deliver opportunities for the South Island,” he says.

Send news tips and comments to divina_paredes@idg.co.nz

Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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Tags lincoln universityICT educationuniversity of otagoTertiary education commissionUniversity of CanterburysignalmentoringAra Institute of CanterburyOtago PolytechnicSTEM educationMBIEskills shortage

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