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 http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events/detail/2013/13_Feb_Computing_Vendor_Birmingham.