Five Key Findings From The Higher Education Academy Workshop on Using Vendor Resources To Enhance Student Employability

On 6 March, 2014, Birmingham City University was very proud to host a Higher Education Academy workshop on how vendor resources can be integrated into teaching to improve the employability prospects of students. The workshop particularly related to the Computing discipline and the work of the School of Computing, Telecommunications and Networks, but the general findings are relevant to a whole field of subjects and courses looking at helping their students to benefit from gainful employment.

For the uninitiated, vendor resources can be defined as the materials provided by major companies within the computing fields. Within computing at Birmingham City University, the school work closely with vendors like Cisco, Microsoft, SAS, Apple and Oracle. Many of these vendors provide training on their latest software, meaning that students who become proficient are immediately work ready to go and become employed with companies who are using these pieces of software.

Many vendors also offer certification opportunities. Birmingham City University students are able to take those certifications alongside their main degree. This means that these Birmingham City University students graduate with additional qualifications and skills on their CV and so they are immediately ready for work. Studies by the Head of School, Mak Sharma, have already shown that the use of such vendor resources and the subsequent qualifications position students directly towards the workplace and so enhance their prospects for employability.

This blog post presents five key findings from the workshop.


1. Using Vendor Resources Requires Trust

Presenters, including the keynote speaker Mak Sharma, spoke about the amount of time needed to convince computing vendors that they needed to be involved with education. Where universities had already been shown to be successful, this had been the result of many years of effort and building up connections. Universities looking to work with vendors need to do this slowly over a long-period of time. Birmingham City University has already carried out their hard work with many vendors, meaning that vendor resources are immediately available to be used with students. The university is also ready to quickly expand to work with other universities since it can carry forward the highly positive recommendation that it has gained from the vendors that it already works with.

2. Vendor Resources Help Students To Obtain A Better Job

In his keynote, Mak Sharma shared the early findings from his work towards his Master’s Degree In Education. Mak has surveyed current and former students about the benefits that they had found from using vendor resource. More than 80% of current students thought that their experience of vendor resources would help them to obtain a better job. This tied in closely with the results found from students who had graduated from the high quality Computing courses at Birmingham City University. More than 60% of students who responded confirmed that the use of vendor resources at Birmingham City University had helped them to obtain a better job than would otherwise have been made available for them.

3. Universities Need To Adapt Quickly To Skills Shortages Identified By Vendors

Bill Quinn of the Linux Professional Institute (LPI) attended the event. The LPI is quite unusual amongst vendors in that they provide subject certification that is not tied to a particular software solution. Bill cited comments from the Irish Government that current skills are needed in Big Data. This ties in closely with the MSc Business Intelligence course offered at Birmingham City University providing students with skills in data analytics. This course works closely with SAS and other vendors to ensure that students are immediately prepared to enter a highly paid profession which uses their statistical and mathematical skills.

4. Universities Have A Role To Play In Supporting Vendors To Develop Certification Opportunities That Are Suitable For Current Students

An opportunity was identified by academia to work more closely with vendors to make sure that the courses that they offer are suitably academic in nature. These is a big gap between current vendor certifications and academic qualifications in terms of how students and taught and assessed. Vendors were shown to not always understand that the academic requirements of a course need to be fulfilled first for students to obtain a degree. There were also issues identified with the way that questions set by vendors are phrased, since industrial questions are very different to academic questions. Stephen Murphy’s work with the Linux Professional Institute is leading the way in the higher education sector here. After negotiations with Steve, the LPI provides separate certification for students to that which is offered for professionals (although students can take the more advanced qualifications with a small amount of provided training). More vendors need to operate in this way, rather than having unrealistic expectations of whet universities can deliver.

5. Universities Should Improve Their Assessment Mechanisms Based On The Robust Processes Developed by Vendors

Many institutions are said to be behind the time with the way that they undertake student assessment. Vendor certification exams need to be particularly robust, since these are designed to be delivered over an extended time period at multiple training centres around the world. There are a lot of lessons that could be learned from the way that exams are set to assess how well students understand the use of vendor resources, as opposed to the way that these standard tests, assessments and examinations are currently being used within higher education institutions. Stephen Murphy’s work with the LPI, in terms of developing questions that can be repeatedly used worldwide, and which are particularly good at differentiating between students who can memorise a set of answers, and students who have practiced and have reached an advanced level of knowledge with a particular technical skill, are potential of much use here. It is hoped the Higher Education Academy and internal mechanisms at Birmingham City University can fund future research in this area.

More information about the HEA Vendor Resources Workshop in Computing, along with findings and presentations from the workshop, is available at

How To Give A Convincing 10 Minute RESCON Research Presentation

Birmingham City University recently held its 2013 version of RESCON and I delivered a short presentation on an aspect of our contract cheating research. This is an internal conference, bringing together the breadth of research across Birmingham City University.

Whilst there was some excellent research presented, showing the skill base of both the Birmingham City University staff and research students, I also noticed many presenters who were not able to work within the particular constraints of this event. The most notable constraint? A firm 10 minute time limit to presentations, with a very tight schedule, and potentially allowing for some handover time. The other constraint? A multidisciplinary audience, who don’t have qualifications in most of the fields being presented.

Research Mistakes

Because of this, I also observed several mistakes which should never have happened with professional presenters. People pitching their talk at completely the wrong level, or requiring advanced subject skills to understand it. Presenters just wanting to give a talk they gave at another conference with a 30 minute slot, and finding themselves cut off at the methodology section. And, generally, just bad presentation skills, people reading from scripts, mumbling, and suffering from poor slide design.

I can’t immediately solve the poor presentation skills that are inherent around research conferences (one would think that would be a core skill for anyone working in or considering a career in academia), but there are plenty of books and courses in that area.

What I can do is look at the core techniques designed to succeed in a research setting like this, and the motivation behind it.

How To Give More Suitable Short Research Presentations

First of all, the main reason to present at an internal conference like this is publicity. It’s all about keeping your name and research visible around the university and trying to grow the connections which will help to take it to a wider audience. This isn’t the place to debut massive research studies. This isn’t a research conference with a paper attached (these types of conferences do hold value within the Computing field). It’s a place to make connections.

Second, plan to base the talk about an aspect of your research which will make sense to all disciplines. The table showing detailed research findings in a tiny font can wait. Think of something that is accessible and which delegates can understand the basics of. For instance, I watched a presentation on music, where a piece of sheet music was projected and several features of that music were verbally explained. Assuming that most of the audience could not read sheet music, that could have been improved by playing the music.

Third, focus the talk around one idea. One small aspect of the work where a visible result can be presented (the results are generally more interesting than a detailed methodology). I saw an excellent example of this looking at fatherhood as a much larger portion of a PhD study. No technical consideration, but enough examples of results from the research, and quotes from participants, to make this accessible to an audience outside of the Health Faculty. If people are interested further in the research, provide them with a link to your other publications, or an offer to present a longer research seminar, and you’ll cover both audiences.

Fourth. If you’re inexperienced giving research presentations, particularly with this style, review the planned presentation with someone with more experience first. This is true especially for research students, who have the immediate benefit of having a research supervisor available to held them and to fulfill this role.

Think About Research Presentations Like This…

If you take one thing away from this post, make it to present one single accessible idea. Add the short set of interesting slides to your SlideShare account and the rest of your Professional Online Presence and use this to draw people in to the interesting areas of research that you’re working on.

Developing Student Employability Through The Creation Of Online Professional Identitites

I attended and presented at a really useful Higher Education Academy workshop, looking at the ways in which technology is becoming embedded within teaching and learning of employability. My own presentation focused on the need for students of all academic disciplines to establish an online professional identity.

The presentation took place at the Using Learning Technologies To Develop Employability Skills Workshop, held at the University of Salford on 11 July 2013. The slides, hosted on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are included here.

I was also interested to hear of work taking place at the University of Southampton where students (largely PhD students) were taking the role of helping students to establish, build and develop their professional identities. This certainly seems like an excellent way to extend this topic beyond the bounds of the Computing academic discipline.

Teaching Undergraduate Research Methods Using Action Learning Sets – Video Post

This video presentation explores the methods that I’ve been using with my undergraduate students to help them to gain a practical understanding of research methods and to become prepared to use research within their final year project.

The presentation is part of the current Higher Education Academy project on Innovation In The Assessment Of Social Science Research Methods. Although my approach is geared around my experiences with Computing students, I do feel that the techniques are applicable to other academic disciplines, and I’ll be interested to hear any thoughts and ideas.

The slides are also available on my SlideShare account.

Examples Of Promoting Research Through Professional Presences

Here are the slides that I delivered at the HEA workshop “Professional Presences For Academics” related to examples of different promotional methods. The slides are hosted on the SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster.

They cover all types of ways of self-promotion using web sites, blogs and social media, but they will be particularly useful to anyone involved with academic research.

One thing that I’ve found works very well is promoting talks and research activities both before, during and after their release, and these slides include a number of examples and ideas.

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