Where Teaching and Learning Matter
As a university student studying an industrial engineering qualification, I was required each summer 'holiday' to spend twelve weeks working in industry. Fortunately we were paid! Before the end of the first term (semester) we were required to write a report on what we had done and what we had seen. I don't recall that we had any guidance, or that we got academic credit. It was a formal requirement for obtaining the degree: a Bachelor of Technology (Hons) from Massey University.
At a vaccine factory in Upper Hutt I sloshed around as a process worker making animal vaccines with delightful names such as Pulpy Kidney, Malignant Oedema, and Black Disease.... all cousins of Tetanus. I made that one, too. As I wrote up my report I discovered from a veterinary codex that the symptoms of these diseases were: "Death within 24 hours" and "Note: affects humans".
At Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in a wintry Blackpool-by-the Sea I began to 'crack' a few patents to make a bench-scale process for making polytetrafluoroethylene fibres (PTFE or Teflon non-stick). ICI soon built a factory to make the fibres as a substitute for carcinogenic blue asbestos. Asbestos was used as an essential component in building chemical engineering facilities.
The first experience led me to swap majors form biotechnology to industrial engineering and management: a manager had introduced me to Peter Drucker's books on management. I took what seemed the risky plunge into studying a few social science subjects including psychology and economics... and discovered a new subject to love beyond physics and computer science. I later worked as a graduate in the Economics and Policy Research Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The second experience was my first 'Big OE'. Although I had left my birth country, England, at aged ten, I had no correct impression or memory of what Britain was like. I expected 'wall-to-wall' Coronation Street and dark, satanic mills. Instead, I found brilliant green fields, cute villages, an impressive research and technology-based company in ICI ... and my first electronic calculator: a loved Sinclair Oxford.
The content of what I was learning in my degree had little or no relevance to either of my work placements. However, I had amplified my ability to 'learn how to learn'. Furthermore, I had the language to engage with technologists, scientists, and engineers. As I was informed in my very first day in engineering school: if you are still using your degree to get a job three years after you have graduated, you have failed! My two work placements helped confirm the validity of my teachers proposition - I was not going to 'learn the answers to life, the universe and everything' through my university studies!
Now I teach business studies: leadership, strategy, innovation management, new venture foundation, and entrepreneurship. These subjects require students to build confidence in taking risks - managed risks. 'To go boldly were none has gone before'. Consequently, my approach to preparing students for their Practice-Based Learning in 'real' industrial situations is to introduce them through the safety of a 'learning laboratory' to some of the issues they will face in the 'real world'.
For example, in the course BSNS 6340 Strategic Thinking, students compete in teams to operate a global footwear company presented in the form of a computer 'game' simulation - the (infamous!) Business Strategy Game (BSG). The student teams make decisions including marketing expenditures, production plant improvements, and financial engineering. We assess students' ability to fulfil the promises of their three-year strategic plans, and the overall success against other teams and investors' expectations. However, we give EQUAL credit to the students reflecting on their experience of the strategy simulation. We encourage students to begin blogging their reflections publicly or privately. As the chaos, confusion, stress, and interpersonal crises of the strategy competition build up, we provide greater structure to the reflective task ... and provide 'just-in-time' coaching to the class as a whole and individual teams. Students complete a final substantial reflective essay which is highly structured in terms of the aspects that students must cover.
Reflecting on both my student placement and subsequent career as industrial scientist and academic teacher, I suggest we can prepare students for their study-based placement in the work environment through:
I currently implement these proposals through the first-year course offered in the Unitec Faculty of Creative Industries and Business (FCIB) BSNS 5391 Innovation & Entrepreneurship and the subsequent course BSNS 6340 Strategic Thinking.
Further resources: Reflective writing
Writing a reflective document: The DIEP framework. (n.d.). Innovation & chaos ... in search of l'excellence. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from http://pogus.tumblr.com/post/915055044/diep
Larkin, I., & Beatson, A. (2010). Developing reflective practitioners online: the business of blogs in work integrated learning. Presented at the International conference on work-integrated learning, Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Retrieved from http://www.waceinc.org/hongkong/linkdocs/papers/Australia/Refereed%...
Mellalieu, P. J. (2010, August 21). Course Handbook and Syllabus Unitec BSNS 5391 Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Scribd. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/36191676/Course-Handbook-and-Syllabus-Uni...
Mellalieu, P. J., & Emerson, A. (2009). Developing reflective learning in a strategic thinking class. In Unitec Teaching and Learning Symposium. Presented at the Unitec Teaching and Learning Symposium, 28 September 2009, Auckland, NZ: Unitec Institute of Technology. Retrieved from http://web.mac.com/petermellalieu/Teacher/Blog/Entries/2009/9/29_Sy...
Buckingham, M., & Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now, Discover Your Strengths (1st ed.). Free Press.
Liesveld, R., & Miller, J. A. (2005). Teach with Your Strengths: How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students. Gallup Press.
Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test .... Gallup Press.
Mellalieu, P. J. (2010, August 22). How can students be prepared for Practice-Based Learning? A reflection. Innovation & chaos ... in search of l'excellence. Retrieved August 21, 2010, from http://pogus.tumblr.com/post/989695576/pbl