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A digital experience: why industry excursions encourage authentic learning

by | Aug 2, 2017 | News | 0 comments

A key challenge I face in the classroom is how to communicate to students that what they are learning has real world industry applications. Sometimes showing them can be far more beneficial than telling them.

This past session, the first batch of students undertook the Digital Experience Design subject in the Digital and Social Media major of the Bachelor of Arts in Communication. This subject introduces students to the fundamentals of user experience design across diverse digital platforms. The students analyse existing case studies, develop strategic plans and engage in project-based learning. Teaching in the Digital and Social Media major, I thought it would be evident that the knowledge, skills and attributes we are building on week to week would have a very clear connection with the kinds of careers the students would be looking to pursue after graduation – but this wasn’t the case. They had very limited exposure to the kinds of digital jobs, opportunities and workplaces that existed.

Students look at backlit screens of statistics in the Commbank Innovation labVisiting the Commbank Innovation Lab

In one of the early weeks of session, we showed the students a video of CommBank’s Innovation Lab and their new business product, Albert. The students seemed surprised by the technology and the company’s emphasis on digital innovation. Explaining to the students that CommBank has a digital team comprising of hundreds of employees across more than 40 teams, and that user experience design was a key area of knowledge expected in digital was still difficult for many of them to comprehend. I realised that I could do more than simply tell them about industry – I could show them.

So I organised tours of CommBank’s Innovation Lab for students after the session had ended. We held two tours with around 10 students in each session. We arrived at Commonwealth Bank place at Darling Harbour and were greeted by Maggie Jenkins, a Business Analyst in the Digital Team. We were then taken into the Innovation Lab where George Brak, Senior Manager Digital Experience – Delivery & Operations spoke with the students. He asked them questions about what they wanted to get out of the tour and what kinds of careers they were looking at pursuing. He showed them around the incredible space, all the while explaining how UX and digital operates at CommBank.

“The tour was valuable across the board, but what stood out was George asking the group what we individually wanted to get out of the tour. It made the whole experience feel much more personal and relevant.”

We were then joined by Lisa Harrison, Talent Researcher – Digital Channels & Analytics, who discussed how the hiring process works in Digital at A woman sits at a desk using a computerCommBank, the kinds of attributes they were looking for, and upcoming networking opportunities that the students could participate in. The students were highly engaged and responsive – soaking in the knowledge and asking questions, when they weren’t slightly overwhelmed by the coolness of it all. Students were able to see the garage spaces in action and try out some of the technology used in UX research, including the eye-tracking software.

Lastly, students were taken on a tour of the scrum teams’ work spaces and shown how the teams function and communicate on a day-to-day basis. The students were surprised to see that the kinds of activities, processes and methodologies we were practicing in the classroom was reflected in the CommBank scrum teams’ work spaces. Post-it notes all over the walls, whiteboards with diagrams and flowcharts, and hubs of desks where the team members collaborated. The connections between theory, practice and real world were being made and it was evident in the feedback the students provided. When asked what aspects of the tour they found most valuable, the students replied with:

“Seeing the workplace and hearing the different roles. It was nice to see how our degree is very real world and also helped me see how my degree is worthwhile in terms of getting to where I want!”

“I found that learning in depth about Commbank’s overall UX process was beyond valuable, it definitely reinforced that every organisation/company that have a UX team are going to operate differently depending on the work culture, funding, and overall team members and employers.

What did we learn?

These industry excursions have the potential to galvanize learning for the students, by linking the learning activities and assessments to real world industry practice. This excursion was well regarded by the student participants and is something that the Digital and Social Media teaching team is going to look to continue to run and hopefully build on in the future.

And so I open it up to you, fellow Futures readers, are there ways to create university-industry connections in your subjects or discipline areas? Are you already offering students opportunities to visit industry sites and connect with industry leaders? If so, I’d love to hear your own stories!

Feature image credit: Francisco Gomes

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