Otago Polytechnic
351x244 RES story HamishSam

Getting practical sooner

Hamish Smith and Professor Samuel Mann

Graduates of Otago Polytechnic’s Bachelor of Information Technology say it’s the thing that gives them jobs: more than a third of their final year of study is project based.

“In a job interview, candidates can talk about a real problem they’ve worked through,” says Professor Samuel Mann.

In recent years, capstone projects in the degree programme have been as diverse as a GPS-based virtual walking tour of central Dunedin historical landmarks to Pestweb, a system that gives farmers interactive information about pests. Now, wanting to transfer the benefits of project-based learning to all students, Mann and Programme Manager Hamish Smith researched how to translate the capstone approach to a lower-level course.

“We didn’t find much at an introductory level. So we looked at what is different and what works at a certificate level.” Smith says. The Certificate involves 12 ½ weeks of four different classes, with conventional teaching methods, followed by four weeks working on a project event full-time. Given a brief, students in groups of two or three follow differing pathways through the task.

The experiences of ICT students at Otago Polytechnic suggest project events in computing at certificate level are a successful innovation.

Smith, H. and Mann, S. (2011) Students' Experiences of Project Based Learning within a Pre-Degree Programme. Journal of Applied Computing and Information Technology, Volume 15, Issue 2.