That whooshing sound…..

Douglas Adams wrote ” I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” This week completely whooshed by, partly because I spent most of it curled up in bed fighting flu.  Have made it through the whole winter with scarcely a cough and just as we move to daylight saving time, down I come!

Consequently, I have done almost nothing for the course this week – enough just trying to keep my head above water with normal work.  Looks like a busy weekend as I catch up.


Serious Fun, Serious Learning – challenging students to learn

I did too much thinking about the course I want to redevelop and so never got round to blogging in time – whoops! A day late (hope I can have an extension *grins)


The course
For some years we have had, but not often taught, a second semester, first year degree course for the Information Technology students called “IT in Context”. It is intended to create a context for their IT study,  particularly as some of the younger students have had little experience of the world in which much of their IT work will be situated.  It was felt that the students needed to have some grounding in ethics and basic business practices in order to make sense of some of their learning in other classes.   Consequently, the learning outcomes (with which I have some problems!) were identified as:

On successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1.  Identify and discuss the reasons for behaving ethically in a range of situations within an IT context.
  2.  Describe and discuss the historical concepts of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and their application to a contemporary IT context.
  3.  Discuss basic business principles and practices.
  4.  Describe and discuss the use of IT in a specific context.

On the two occasions on which this has been taught, both students and staff have found it rather a trial!  For students excited to be starting IT study it seems dry and irrelevant and while staff understand the need for the course it has been seen as rather a chore to teach rather than an excitement.  With changes to our degree regulations this course has now become a compulsory one and  while I am excited by what the course could be I am frustrated by what it is!

Challenge Week

Two years ago, faced yet again with planning the annual round of orientation activities for new students, somewhat jaded staff thought to create excitement for themselves as well as for the students by dropping the standard orientation practices and instead taking the whole of the first teaching week of the first semester as an IT Challenge Week for all students on our IT programmes.  ( I won’t go into detail but we did write it up here). One major hope of Challenge Week was that by providing students with some interesting, challenging and largely self-directed activities it would help them to engage with important and necessary content and that it would thus model the kind of approach to learning that we wanted our students to follow. (One example- The requirement: Students have to read and understand various policies related to the use of IT services on campus.  The challenge: to suggest the most humorous but pertinent penalty for breaking the rules.)

Building on this approach

Challenge Week was a huge success. We have now run it twice and are in the process of planning for the third.  We have noticed the impact it has on our first year students’ approach to learning – they are much readier to be self directed and enjoy the prospect of a ‘challenge’. In some senses we modelled the idea of  ‘Serious Fun, Serious Learning’  too well and some of our classes do not meet the expectation that we have built up.  Students instinctively realise that their are some subject areas where a more traditional approach is useful but for a course like “IT in Context”, we are letting them down.  It cries out to be turned into a series of exciting challenges! That is what I am hoping to focus on.

Hidden Agenda

While accepting that there is some content that needs to be absorbed during this class, I believe that we have quite a large hidden agenda too.  We are really suggesting to them that if they are wanting to be an IT professional then this is:

  • what you need to know,
  • how you need to behave,
  • how you need to learn,
  • what you need to pay attention to
and if you want to learn that from studying with us, then this is:
  • what we expect from you
  • what you can expect from us
  • what we value
All of these things require appropriate use of technology and we must be role-modelling that use ourselves in our professional lives.
The Challenge
The challenge for us in delivering this class and for me personally in designing it will be to engage all our first year students for a whole semester in a way that will enhance their learning in their other classes,  keep them focussed on  what it means to be an IT professional and ensure that they absorb the important concepts from the learning outcomes at the same time!
Serious Fun, Serious Learning!