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TRANSCRIPT: Tales of Teaching Online ep. 48: Designing a Capstone program to change a culture (feat Laura Tubino and Andrew Cain)

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Intro: Digital, student-centred, creative, innovation, imagination, initiative, stories that matter.

Laura Tubino: Hello everyone, and thank you for joining us for this episode of Tales of Teaching Online. My name is Laura Tubino and today I’m joined by Andrew Cain, Associate Head of School Learning in the School of IT, who will share with us the School of IT Capstone Program and how it is driving a culture, changing the school. So hello Andrew, thanks for being here. Would you like to describe the current Capstone Program in the School of IT?  

Andrew Cain: Okay. So the Capstone Program in the School of IT is designed for students to showcase their achievement of the course learning outcomes. That’s an explicit requirement in the assessment within the Capstone Program. It’s actually a two credit points, capstone two single credit points, one after the other in which students work on a, work in a company on projects that have a long running lifestyle, lifespan. At the moment, we have students working in companies have up to around about 120 students in each company. Within that company, they organised themselves into groups and then work on projects help progress that company’s vision. They then draw upon what they have done in the in those projects in order to meet to the, or to demonstrate how they’re meeting all of their course learning outcomes. They have to explicitly grab all of the course learning outcomes off the website which actually is a slightly challenging thing to do and then communicate their progress on those. At the end of the first trimester. And then in the second trimester they indicate where they started with the course learning outcomes, what they’ve achieved already. Then they aim to demonstrate achievement of all of the course learning outcomes by the end of that second trimester.  

Laura: That is really interesting. So having been involved a little bit on this program, I know that as you say, they go and look at the course learning outcomes and this assessment or this program in general is very student-centred in that the student themselves chooses how much work and what type of work they will do. They decide on their own what type of grade they will be getting. But as you say, these teams are 120 students per team. So it’s not really teamwork, would you say? Andrew: I’d say the opposite. I’d say it is actually forces teamwork much more than we had teamwork in the past. The previous model that we had, we allocated students to groups of around 10 students, so five from, obviously, there wasn’t always 5 and 5, but five from the first capstone and five from the second capstone unit. That meant that the students in the second capstone unit would be mentoring those from the first capstone unit so we get some transfer of knowledge from one group to the other. We still have that idea within the companies but the larger groups mean the students now need to do much more in the terms of group work because they’ve got, we do coordinate the groups and work out, define the responsibilities for each group, work out how they interface, how they connect together, brings in a whole lot of new dynamics that you don’t have when you’ve just have a group, a group of ten people, even as a big group usually, but what is the group of 120 you have to have ways of organising those 120 to make them work effectively.

Laura: And isn’t that difficult to get students to establish their own companies? Because here the students are even deciding on what the structure will be of the company, right? They already setting up the kind of leadership there will be, and the distribution of labour or work, and even what kind of work they will be doing. Was it difficult to get students to do this or to actually get academics to allow students to do this, to get that amount of freedom?

Andrew: The two different questions. The first one, the students, were we, so this I guess it’s not just, it’s student and staff led. So it is a partnership, I think, between the two. So the students. But the way I think about the companies is that companies have the worst turnover where approximately 50 per cent of your employees leave every 11 weeks. So that means you don’t have long you don’t have with the students we don’t have that long-term vision. So the staff bring the long term vision. They help to guide the students in organising the company and help bring in the long-term view. This is what we’re working on. These are the project ideas. So if the company just could go any direction every trimester, then potentially it goes nowhere because they just never has any coherence. So hopefully the staff bringing the, the coherence so that we have this company has this idea and this objective that it’s working on and therefore organises itself to meet that objective. Now, the exact way they organise themselves, that would be student and staff organised. But yeah, the students are probably the ones doing more of the work. So this is the first trimester that we’re doing, the capstone in this way. And we identified some students who did well in the capstone previously. They really took to, leading these companies and to helping organise how the companies would organise themselves in order to meet these objectives they have for that particular company. So that actually wasn’t too bad in this, leadership students have really, the problem we have is the opposite problem. It’s not about our how do you get them to do the work. It’s how do you stop them doing too much work? I think that’s the biggest problem. So lots of the leadership students have just taken it on board and really putting themselves totally into leading these companies and trying to get the best out of the best possible outcomes for the company and setting it up in a way that will have hopefully most of them have a reasonably long-term view beyond their own trimesters. So they are capturing the way they want things to work. And I’m trying to think about how to put things in place for students in future trimesters.

Laura: That is an amazing outcome indeed. And I have in fact been impressed with the leadership students because what I have observed is that they are not only leading their companies, but I have also seen that they are driving different initiatives that have sometimes nothing to do with their companies. But they have become like, I don’t know, driving the whole like helping their, their peers find different jobs and talking about diversity and inclusion. Now having input on curriculum. So can you tell us a little bit more about that? What’s happening there?

Andrew: Yeah. So all of this was made possible by changes to the assessment, which meant that it wasn’t a standard group assignment where most, most academics in have group assignments mark one product and you get a mark from that. And then you distribute that mark across all of the people who contributed to the project. Whereas with capstone, we tried to move away from that a few years ago and we got a VC award for that. So that was nice. Which was looking at, instead of marking these group projects, the group work we mark, or the group product, we have each student produce a portfolio that demonstrates what they’ve done. We scaffold the development of that portfolio through the trimesters so they get feedback and can use that feedback to improve their performance. And by the end, they have a portfolio that showcases what they have been able to achieve individually. So as the student, this is my contributions and I’m assess on what I did not, what everybody else did now obviously working together as part of that, we have been working on a lot of work on the rubric and the way that that scaffolds different professional skills and domain specific skills within, within that artefact that they create. So they demonstrating achievement of all of their course learning outcomes. With that individual assessment then we can tailor the rubric, two different things that we care about. So in the new capstone model one dimension of that is their contributions to the company. And so their contributions to the company or I guess it’s actually really an opportunity, isn’t it? The contributions to the company become one opportunity to show achievement of the, say, the distinction or the high distinction criteria which require them to do leadership or to demonstrate things of excellence that they’ve done. Alongside that, in the capstone, we set up the idea of cohorts, which were peer support, peer support groups. So we actually had them originally by discipline. So different areas of IT had their own cohort and the students were encouraged to use the cohorts to help support each other and then that was another opportunity where they can show leadership in their portfolio if they’re doing interesting things through the cohorts. But as you said, the students have then taken it further. So that’s sort of the framework that we put in place. And we were approached by some students to set up women in IT cohort because there’s a gender imbalance in IT that needs to be addressed. And this is looking at providing some extra support for the female students that we have in the in the unit. So we set that up which was really nice and that it’s been very I believe it’s been very positive. It’s only accessible by female staff and the students at the moment. So I haven’t actually seen it myself but there’s been lots of activity, I believe, in that. And then from that they’ve set up their own now Equity and Diversity cohort where they’re there I guess getting a broader community of people connected to those ideas and they’re raising those things a bit more publicly. Which is really great. They’ve also then arranging things like guest presentations from other people to come in to talk to these different cohorts that are available and to talk in the companies that do different things. One of the students is organised, so we had a cohort for all of the leadership students that they can have a peer network where they can talk to each other about what they’re doing and how they’re going, setting up their companies. And they might be leading other aspects, they would have access to it as well. They’ve set up a leadership conference now so that they could get together and share ideas and things that are happening. Which is really interesting. So none of these things are, lots of those things are entirely came out of the system entirely organically from the students wanting to engage in it and thinking about ways they could make it better. And the great thing is the assessment approach will reward them for doing that, which is sort of the starting idea. We changed the assessment so that we could reward students for doing interesting things. Now, we’re getting students doing interesting things.  

Laura: But it’s a beautiful outcome that is occurring there. As we started by saying, this Capstone Program had the aim of changing the culture in the school. So what is the long-term vision for this changing culture? 

Andrew: Well, I guess it’s about getting students more engaged I guess, getting them to take more ownership responsibility for what they’re doing. I think we touched on a little bit earlier, we talked about the assessment and students being able to pick their grade and work out what they do. So this is a common theme now across most of, I think it’s actually across most or many of the units. So they’re not sure quite if we’re 50% yet across many of the units in the School of IT, where students will target a grade and then demonstrate achievement of the criteria associated with that grade in a portfolio as part of their as part of their assessment. And that’s working really nicely right back to first year E.g. the discrete maths units, I think are sort of gold standard unit, where we have a discrete maths unit with assessments centred primarily around reflection, which you don’t usually associate with maths assessments. But it’s a really great unit where we focus on using assessment for, to help drive the learning I guess and it’s about the students learning how to learn and demonstrating that they can learn, they can learn the math. So we’re getting the discipline specific knowledge coming through so that is not being weakened, but I think that’s staff would say that’s being strengthened by the reflective process. But at the same time, the students are also becoming more aware of all of these other things that they’re learning and they’re taking greater responsibility. So that, that’s sort of an underlying thing across the whole school. So that’s now well-established in the capstone. So what you do in capstone and how you pitch your contributions, you need to do the more engaged and more connected to do to get the higher grades demonstrating things like leadership and and excellence. So that’s in the end of the program, but we don’t want it to hide at the end because it’s a nice, we should have a nice showcase piece. So we’ve gone from, the picture to take away is we’ve gone from 70 projects that we’re all fairly small to six companies. So 70 projects with ten students in each, one to seven, or 6 companies with up to 100 students in each one means that we’re going to have much bigger or much more impressive things being created by these students because they’re all working together collaboratively to build interesting things. When we’re actually seeing that already, the outputs are some of the companies are working on projects that have long-running history and are visible outside of Deakin and people outside of Deakin have already asked me on what’s going on? You guys seem to be doing a lot more than you were doing in the past. So it’s really interesting and we’re getting some traction in terms of that output. So we can have these really cool output that we want to showcase. So we’re now trying to bring that back across the curriculum. So we have a unit that sits as the prerequisite to get into the capstone as a sort of a second-year stepping stone units from first-year into second year. So we now connecting that with the capstone and that’s going to focus on things like teamwork, professional practice, as well as IT skills and students will in that unit be able to start looking into capstone to see what are different ways that leadership exists within capstone models. How does group work work and they can reflect on group work and teamwork and effective group work without really having to do group work or group assignment, which is the usual way we do it. This way we think we can have a bit more of a sort of an academic approach to looking at teamwork and give them some strategies and tools that they can then start to apply when they get into the capstone unit themselves and they can reflect on it and they can observe it beforehand. So that should be cool. So the idea will be they’ll observe capstone in that second year unit, but then they’ll also become interns in the unit. We already have a few interns who are students that are not yet in the Capstone Program who are already joining companies because they are wanting to do some more, some more interesting things and so we’d go, why don’t you join this company and see if you can do some stuff to help them out. So they’re all pub free, open-source projects that people are working on, the student’s contributions we publicly visible, so I’ll get credit for that. So we don’t have any I don’t feel any internal issues about asking students to volunteer if they want you on these projects. So they’ll have interns in second year, then we’ll bring it back to first-year once that’s working, bring it back to first-year students, find out about the companies in first-year, find out what they’re doing and get an idea of what different roles there are in these companies and start to see them and then becoming a stepping stone for that, for them as an individual getting through from their first encounters with IT through to becoming an intern through these companies, becoming joining these companies and then going out into real companies outside of university after that.  

Laura: That is really impressive. And I, I would love to hear a little bit about the challenges because I’m sure there have been a lot of challenges along the way to get to where you are right now.  

Andrew: Yeah, I forgot to get back to that. You mentioned getting some challenges before. So I guess the big challenge is being prepared to trust the students. Like you said at the start, you know, how will the students do anything if we give, put them in these big companies? So we went from micromanaging the students where we assigned to them, we picked the project for them, we picked their teammates, we got them together in a group and that became a huge administrative process and administrative challenge for us. But it was very hard then to go to open model where students are, we didn’t do that. we didn’t do that at all at the start of this trimester, we just told students, we just told students that there were these different companies and they needed to join one. And so they just [put my phone on, do not disturb.] So they had to, we had to trust that they would actually do that. And there was we had people had backup plans created in cases students didn’t do it. But of course they did. They all join companies themselves. We then have to trust the students will be able to lead it so that letting go a bit of that control is challenging. But if you do it, then the student gives the students a great opportunity to actually take responsibility for their learning and majority of students, the vast majority of students did this. We only had, I think out of 500, 600 students this trimester, there’s only 20 or something that didn’t enrol in a company by the date that we had specified. So think that’s end of week two, that most of them are done end of week one. At the end of week two, there’s only 20 students left and we haven’t been able to contact those 20 students. We’ve directly emailed them, send them messages, tried to contact them, and they’re just not contactable. So every student who I think he is actively engaged in the unit is in a company by the end of week two, they’re all engaged. The companies giving them control to do what they want them to organise themselves. It’s worked really well. Then we just have to help guide and support the students in organising those. Same with letting go, I guess if the assessment in a way the students, so this is we have to trust the students are going to be able to demonstrate their achievement of the course learning outcomes. We then use the assessment to help guide and support them in doing that, rather than really putting the assessment to test them. We put the assessment to give them an opportunity to show what they’ve achieved.

Laura: Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to try a similar approach in their schools or courses?

Andrew: My advice would be, no don’t do it yourself, come and join us. We would love to have your students in our companies. That’s what we really need some business students to help us organise these businesses and come up with marketing plans and actually sell the product because we’re gonna be able to build some cool technical products that these companies, but we have no business expertise that we could do the same for all of the other. We have companies that are looking at building health products, but there’s no health staff connected with it. There’s great opportunities for design works, for arts education would be great to have people would be really cool if this is, the great thing about this is now in, I didn’t mention that before in these companies we have post graduate and undergraduate students mixed together. We have cybersecurity, IT, software engineering, computer science, artificial intelligence. That’s AI already. I can’t remember, data science. We’ve got the full range of all of our courses by team management, all of these different courses in there, and they’re all mixed together. But because each student is aiming to demonstrate achievement of their course learning outcomes, each student is customising the program to work for them and they have to demonstrate their achievement of their course learning outcomes so it wouldn’t matter if we had a business student in the course, in the program, they’d have to have, they’d have to demonstrate achievement of business learning outcomes. We will then have to have staff connected to the program to help with the assessment to make sure that they’re demonstrating the right things and give them guidance on that. But I think that would be super cool. That would be the next, so we talked about this within the school, but next is bigger, after that is bigger. So once we’ve got stuff smooth here, being really great to bring in more people. But it’s definitely worth it. Like that would be my advice.  

Laura: What a great call for action. I think that is a great way to finish talking about this amazing program that you have established. Thank you very much for joining us Andrew.

Andrew: Thanks Laura. Good bye.  

Laura: Bye. 

1 December 2022

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